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French firing over veil was ‘religious discrimination’

Five years after a woman was fired from her job at a private nursery school in France for refusing to remove her Islamic veil at work, the country’s top court ruled on Tuesday that her dismissal amounted to “religious discrimination”.

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Five years ago, Fatima Afif (pictured) was fired from her job at the private Baby Loup nursery school in the French town of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, just west of the capital Paris, for refusing to take off her veil while at work. After years of legal battles and appeals, France’s highest court ruled on Tuesday that Afif was unfairly fired as a victim of “religious discrimination”.

In a summary of its ruling, the court explained that because Baby Loup was a private institution whose staff did not provide a public service, the French value of secularism did not apply. It also ordered the nursery school to pay a fine of 2,500 euros to Afif.

“Restrictions on religious freedom must be justified by and proportionate to the nature of the work, as well as respond to an essential professional need,” the court’s ruling read, saying that Baby Loup’s grounds for dismissing Afif were not sufficient.

“If these requirements are not met, an employee’s dismissal for serious misconduct on the basis that he violated the provisions of this clause constitutes religious discrimination, and therefore must be declared void,” the statement continued.

France and secularism

The decision overturns a court ruling in 2010 – which was upheld in appeals the following year – that found Baby Loup was within its rights to fire Afif on December 19, 2008 on the grounds of serious misconduct.

In an unusual move, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls digressed during question time at the country’s National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday to criticise the ruling against the nursery school.

“I want to take a break from my function for a few seconds to tell you how much I regret the court’s decision on the Baby Loup case today, which has called secularism into question,” Valls said.

Secularism has long been a hot-button issue in France, which passed a controversial law in 2011 banning women from wearing the niqab, or full Islamic veil, in public spaces, punishable by a fine of 150 euros. In 2004, the country passed a separate law forbidding any and all “conspicuous signs of religion” in public schools.
 

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