For Immediate Release: December 7, 2016
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
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The Center for Inquiry expressed serious concerns over German chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for a ban on the wearing of the burqa.
Merkel told a conference of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, “The full-face veil is not acceptable in our country. It should be banned, wherever it is legally possible.” CFI, which advocates for secular government and humanist values around the world, warned that such a ban would constitute a retreat from the protection of freedom of religion and expression long championed by the post-war German state. This retreat could worsen tensions, embolden the country’s extremist nationalists, and push Muslim women and girls — who are already in a vulnerable state — deeper into fear and isolation.
“We strongly oppose allowing religions to dictate oppressive dress codes on women, but change must come by freeing women to choose their own style of dress — not by imposing bans,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of government affairs. “Targeting Muslim religious practices is a distasteful and dangerous electoral ploy to appeal to rising right-wing sentiments. Civil liberties should never be subjected to political calculus,” he added.
This summer, Chancellor Merkel expressed opposition to a general ban on full-face veils, instead proposing to “establish precise parameters around full veils for those areas of public life in which a full veil is not appropriate.” The Center for Inquiry acknowledges that in limited circumstances — such as in legal situations and at airports — requiring facial identification is justified. But a general ban, without reference to specific security situations, scapegoats Muslims and violates religious freedom. The chancellor appears now to have diverted from her previous, more reasonable position.
In an earlier speech, Chancellor Merkel’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maziėre, called for a ban on religious face coverings “in places where it is necessary for our society’s coexistence,” which includes not only government offices, schools, universities, and courtrooms, but even peaceful demonstrations.
“Particularly troublesome is a burqa ban at public demonstrations,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and Legal Director. “This will alienate Muslim women, sending the message that they should be discouraged from participation in public life, including the free expression of dissent. While there is oppressiveness in the burqa, silencing those who choose to wear it is another form of repression.”
“A burqa ban might please some in Germany, but its effect will be contrary to the expressed aim of improving coexistence in society,” said De Dora. “If girls are banned from wearing Islamic dress at schools, parents may keep those children home. Observant Muslim women will be pressured to refrain from appearing in public. Muslim women and girls will be made to feel they are not welcome in their own country. We urge Chancellor Merkel to reconsider.”