May 14, 2010 / 12:17 PM / 8 years ago

French burqa ban could face legal challenge

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s top legal advisory body has once again raised questions over the legal viability of a bill to ban full Muslim veils in public, just days before it is put before the cabinet.

The government is expected to present legislation next week to outlaw face-covering veils on the grounds that they are demeaning to women, even though experts have warned that such a prohibition could violate religious freedom.

The Council of State, which advises on the preparation of new laws and orders, earlier this year said introducing such a ban would threaten rights guaranteed under both the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Paris daily Le Figaro reported on Friday the advisory body had again come to the same conclusion after a meeting with government officials on Wednesday.

“A comprehensive and absolute ban on wearing the full veil could not have any legally unchallengeable justification and (it would) be exposed to great constitutional uncertainty,” the paper reported.

The issue has caused intense debate in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe and has been wrestling for years over issues relating to the integration of its various immigrant communities.

The legislation is due to be reviewed in early July by parliament, before heading to the Senate in September with the law possibly being adopted as early as autumn.

The head of the UMP parliamentary group Jean-Francois Cope, who is fighting for the broadest possible ban, said that the panel’s conclusions were not a surprise, but that other legal experts had opposing views.

“I, like many, have a difference of opinion with the Council of State,” Cope told a news conference. “It’s an interpretation. But today there are comprehensive and absolute bans existing such as you can’t wander around naked in the road.”

Cope reiterated the rationale behind the ban was for security reasons, social harmony and the respect of women.

France’s opposition Socialists on May 11 challenged the government plan, proposing a milder bill based on practicality rather than values. Its draft says that everyone must keep their face uncovered when using public services to permit identification.

Additional reporting by Clément Dossin and Clement Guillou; editing by Maria Golovnina

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