+ Description

Episode one examines the legality of France's 2004 law which forbids, in primary and secondary public schools, the wearing of religious signs or symbols that conspicuously exhibit a religious affiliation. France is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to the ICCPR, everyone shall have the right to freedom of religion and the right to manifest one's religion in public. However, under the ICCPR, freedom of religion is not absolute. A nation may restrict the right to freedom of religion to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

In World on Trial, the challengers of the "headscarf ban" argue the French law is an improper infringement on the right of Muslim school girls to wear their headscarves. The defenders of the law contend that the law falls into the exception provided in the ICCPR. The defenders argue the law is necessary to protect Muslim women and girls who are forced to wear a veil, sometimes violently, by fundamentalist Muslim fathers, brothers and community leaders.

Should the law be stricken as a discriminatory and inhospitable "Islamophobic" effort to forbid Muslim girls in public schools from expressing their religious beliefs? Or, should the law be upheld as an appropriate mechanism of preserving French secularism in the public arena, with an important ancillary benefit of allowing Muslim girls who choose not to veil to be secure in their choice, at least in public schools?

+ In the News

Steven Erlanger, France Enforces Ban on Full-Face Veils in Public, N.Y. Times, April 11, 2012

Alex Felton, Too many immigrants in France says former president Sarkozy, CNN, March 8, 2012

Ekaterina Yahyaoui Krivenko, Public International Law eJournal article looks at the Islamic Veil and its Discontents, University of Montreal - Faculty of Law, January 9, 2012

+ Jury Footage

What the jury is deliberating:

French Law No. 2004-228 -- In public elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools, students are prohibited from wearing signs or attire through which they exhibit conspicuously a religious affiliation--Violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18

   1.   Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
. . .
   3.   Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

View jury videos

+ Research

European Court of Human Rights

Dogru v. France, App. No. 27058/05, Eur. Ct. H.R., 2008. In the case of Dogru v. France, French national Ms. Belgin Dogru, lodged a complaint against the French Republic alleging a violation of her right to religious freedom because she was expelled from school for refusing to take off her headscarf for physical education class. Although the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was at issue rather than the ICCPR, the contested article (Article 9 of the ECHR) is identical in substance to Article 18 of the ICCPR. In its decision, the European Court of Human Rights provides an analysis of why it held there had been no violation of Ms. Dogru's right to religious freedom.

Kervanci v. France, App. No. 31645/04 (Eur. Ct. H.R. 2008). Like the claimant in Dogru v. France, Kervanci was expelled from school for refusing to remove her headscarf for physical education class. The European Court of Human Rights found that “the wearing of a veil, such as the Islamic headscarf, was incompatible with sports classes for reasons of health or safety was not unreasonable.” A summary of Kervanci and Dogru is available here.


Melanie Adrian, Laïcité Unveiled: A Case Study in Human Rights, Religion, and Culture in France, 8 HUM. RTS. REV. 102 (2006). Adrian exams laïcité and the history of the debate over the hijab in France. Adrian argues "the exclusion of Muslim norms of religious manifestation are not tolerated because they are perceived to run contrary to the cultural values some French hold dear."

Murat Akan, Laïcité and Multiculturalism: the Stasi Report in Context, 60 BRITISH J. OF SOC'Y 237 (2009). Akan evaluates the Stasi Report in the context of laïcité and how, in this author's opinion, the Stasi report promotes division in France (i.e., from "inclusionary laïcité" to "exclusionary laïcité").

Facing History and Ourselves, Secularity and Religious Identity: The French Headscarf Dilemma, a video of John R. Bowen, Patrick Weil, Jacqueline Bhabha, Sir Keith Ajegbo, and Maleiha Malik explaining the history of laïcite in France.

Mark L. Movsesian, Foreword to Laïcité in Comparative Perspective, 49 J. Cath. Legal Studies (2010)
Abstract: “This essay is the foreword to a conference, "Laïcité in Comparative Perspective," which drew together scholars from Europe and the United States to compare the French model of church-state relations, laïcité, with models that exist in other countries. The essay makes three main points about laïcité. First, it argues that laïcité has multiple meanings that do not always overlap. . . . Second, it demonstrates that conflicts about laïcité are particularly bitter in the context of public education. . . . Finally, it suggests that the way to understand laïcité – and church-state relations in the United States – is to focus on the historical compromises that give abstract doctrine real-world meaning.”

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 100th Anniversary of Secularism in France
This is a list of resources on the significance of the French doctrine laïcité and the current debate on how it is implemented.

Muslims in Europe

BBC News, Muslims in Europe: Country Guide. Estimated total population of Muslims living in each country in Europe.

Gender Equality

Karima Bennoune, The Law of the Republic Versus the "Law of the Brothers": A Story of France's Law Banning Religious Symbols in Public Schools (2009), in HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY STORIES, Deena Hurwitz et al. eds., 2009. Bennoune contends that the debate around headscarves in schools falls short because it does not address both Muslim fundamentalist pressure on women to cover and gender inequality.

Nusrat Choudhury, From the Stasi Commission to the European Court of Human Rights: l'affaire du foulard and the Challenge of Protecting the Rights of Muslim Girls, 16 COLUM. J. GENDER & L. 199 (2007). Choudhury argues that putting forth an interpretation of the wearing of the headscarf that neatly "maps secularism onto gender equality and religious expression onto gender inequality" creates a dangerous isomorphism and limits the promotion of women's full equality.

Legislative History of the 2004 French Law on Religious Symbols

Commission de Réflexion sur l'Application du Principe de Laïcité dans la République: Rapport au Président de la République(2003)(French). Former French President Jacques Chirac charged the Stasi Commission with studying the principle of laïcité and its application in France. The 2004 French law on religious symbols was based on this report, commonly known as "The Stasi Report," compiled by the Stasi Commission.

Robert O’Brien, The Stasi Report: The Report of the Committee of Reflection on the Application of the Principle of Secularity in the Republic (2005). O’Brien provides a complete text of the Stasi Report in French and English. The article provides basis for some of recommendations found in the Stasi Report.

Religious Freedom and International law

Peter Danchin, Suspect Symbols: Value Pluralism as a Theory of Religious Freedom in International Law, 33 YALE J. OF INT'L L. 1 (2008),. Danchin argues there are different ways of thinking about religious freedom, thus, religious freedom under international law and the often times resulting incompatibilities should be viewed from a value pluralism perspective.

The Headscarf Debate

Facing History and Ourselves What Do We Do with a Difference? France and the Debate over Headscarves in Schools (2008). A publication replete with interviews, scholastic articles and personal stories that provides a historical context and a framework for the debate over headscarves in schools.

Mohammad Mazher Idriss, La'icite and the banning of the 'hijab' in France, 25 Legal Stud. 260 (2005),. Idriss provides a historical background and rationale for the French law, as well as, examines some of the criticisms of the law.

French Legal System

Library of Congress Legal Research Guide: France. This Research Guide provides an overview on France’s legal system and sources of law.

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