Some German commentators believe anti-Islam protest group PEGIDA will seize on the ruling as evidence of Europe's increasing islamization. (EPA Peter Endig)

Muslim Women Teachers Can Wear Headscarves, German Court Rules


MARCH 13, 2015

Berlin. Muslim women teachers in Germany can wear headscarves in class as long as it does not cause disruption in the school, Germany's top court said on Friday in a ruling that may fuel debate about what some nationalist groups see as creeping "Islamization."

The Constitutional Court reversed its own initial 2003 ban on headscarves for teachers, which had led some German states to forbid Muslim headscarves in schools while permitting the use of Christian symbols such as crucifixes and nuns' habits.

The court in Karlsruhe, ruling on a case brought by a Muslim woman blocked from a teaching job because of her headscarf, said religious symbols could only be banned when they posed "not just an abstract but a concrete risk of disruption in schools."

"This is a good day for religious freedom," said Volker Beck, a lawmaker from the opposition Greens.

He argued that headgear worn by devout Muslim, Jewish and Christian women and men was less of a threat to German society than "opponents of diversity" such as the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), neo-Nazis and extremist Muslim Salafists.

Christine Lueders, head of the federal anti-discrimination agency, hailed the ruling for "reinforcing religious freedom in Germany." With education administered by Germany's 16 states, she called on local authorities to review the relevant rules.

But the Berlin daily TAZ warned that the anti-Islam protest group PEGIDA, which began with small marches in Dresden and soon spawned imitation rallies across Germany and beyond, would seize on the ruling to argue that Europe is being taken over by Islam.

"PEGIDA will celebrate," said TAZ on its front-page, beneath a photo of colored headscarves in a shop-window in Berlin.

Enthusiasm for PEGIDA, which stands for 'Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West', fizzled after its members began to be outnumbered by anti-racist demonstrators and PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann posed for a photo with a Hitler moustache.

But there are widespread misgivings in Germany about the influence of its 4 million-strong Muslim community.

One survey carried out in late 2014, before a blacklash caused by the Islamist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, showed 57 percent of Germans thought Islam posed a threat to their society.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has accused the PEGIDA organisers of spreading hatred against immigrants, whom she says Germany, with its shrinking workforce and ageing population, badly needs.