Religious freedom in a secular society: the case of the Islamic headscarf in France

Jones, Nicky (2009) Religious freedom in a secular society: the case of the Islamic headscarf in France. In: Cultural and Religious Freedom Under a Bill of Rights, 13-15 Aug 2009, Canberra, Australia. (Submitted)

PDF (Accepted Version)

Download (213Kb)


In 1989, three Muslim girls were expelled from their secular public school in France for wearing the Islamic headscarf. Similar expulsions took place in other schools across the country and came to the attention of the international community. The schools believed that the wearing of the headscarf was contrary to the Republican principle of secularism, which is a central tenet of French society and public policy, particularly where education is concerned. In a bid to resolve uncertainty, the Conseil d’État delivered its legal opinion, stating that wearing religious signs in public schools was not by itself incompatible with secularism. However, religious signs could be prohibited in certain circumstances. Over the following years, many of the expelled schoolgirls appealed their expulsion decisions. In the majority of cases, the courts upheld the girls’ right to wear their headscarves at school. This paper discusses some of the significant events in the affair of the headscarf, including the 1989 legal opinion, key ministerial circulars issued to explain how the legal opinion was to be applied and the case law from the appeals brought by the expelled schoolgirls. The paper also considers the development of secularism in France and the notion of rights and duties which was integral to the doctrine of secularism. Finally, this paper considers some lessons which can be learned from the affair of the headscarf in France and notes some events which have occurred in Australia in recent years and which raise similar questions to those arising in the affair of the headscarf.

Statistics for USQ ePrint 6159
Statistics for this ePrint Item
Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: No evidence of copyright restrictions.
Depositing User: Dr Nicky Jones
Faculty / Department / School: Historic - Faculty of Business - School of Law
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2011 06:25
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2013 23:29
Uncontrolled Keywords: France; French Republic; secularism; headscarf; Islamic headscarf; hijab; Muslim girls; schoolgirls; expelled; public schools; rights; duties
Fields of Research (FOR2008): 16 Studies in Human Society > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169901 Gender Specific Studies
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
18 Law and Legal Studies > 1801 Law > 180119 Law and Society
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO2008): C Society > 94 Law, Politics and Community Services > 9404 Justice and the Law > 940499 Justice and the Law not elsewhere classified

Actions (login required)

View Item Archive Repository Staff Only