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Face veil (niqab)?


Summarized: The wearing of a face-veil (niqab) is generally protected under the right to freedom of religion from Article 4 of the Constitution. The individual federal states can, however, create a legal basis for a ban on face veils in school. A public school could then be allowed to ban the face-veil. 

A ban on the face-veil (niqab) at a public school would violate a Muslim student’s fundamental right to freedom of religion under Article 4 of the German Basic Law but could possibly be justified under certain circumstances.  

First, the question arises whether the wearing of the full-face veil is protected at all by the freedom of religion granted under Article 4 of the Basic Law. In the press or on television, for example, there is sometimes talk of the full-face veil not being an Islamic requirement and for this reason alone not coming under the freedom of religion. The consequence of this view would be that the wearing of the full-face veil would only be protected by the general freedom of action under Article 2(1) of the Basic Law and could thus be restricted much more easily. In this context, the Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that in assessing whether or not certain conduct is covered by freedom of religion, the self-image of the person concerned and the respective religious community is decisive.1 This does not mean that the person concerned will always receive legal recognition as such for every action that he or she considers to be religiously motivated. Rather, the behavior must be sufficiently plausibly based on a religious motivation in terms of spiritual content and external appearance so that it can be covered by the scope of protection of Article 4 of the Basic Law.2 The plausibility check acts as a corrective measure here to limit the risk of misuse.3 However, there can be no far-reaching evaluation by the state, because it is not the task of the courts and thus of the state to make binding decisions about rules of faith.4 Finally, there are various trends, especially in Islam, each of which can claim the fundamental right of religious freedom for itself.5 It is not necessary that it be a rule recognized and followed by the majority in the respective religion.6 Practices and religious rules which aren’t as widespread within the religious community can also be recognized.7 The niqab, as worn in Yemen and Saudi Arabia can therefore also principally fall under the protection of religious freedom in Germany.   

Thus, a restriction of the fundamental right of the niqab-wearer by a teacher/principal requires a legal basis. Without a sufficiently specific legal basis, the teacher/principal may not prohibit the wearing of the niqab.8  

In a case at the Osnabrück Administrative Court, it was held that there was no such legal basis in Lower Saxony state law that could have supported a ban on the niqab.9 Therefore, it would have been sufficient here if the person concerned had sufficiently demonstrated that the niqab was subjectively an indispensable religious duty for her. However, the person concerned was not able to succeed in the preliminary legal protection proceedings and was unsuccessful in court. As a result, the state of Lower Saxony decided to create a corresponding legal basis for a ban.10  

The Hamburg Supreme Court ruled similarly to the Administrative Court in Osnabrück. An order to a female student wearing a niqab for religious reasons to show her face in class requires a legal basis, which does not exist in Hamburg.11 As in Lower Saxony, a legal ban is being planned in response to the ruling.12  

In Bavaria, a woman also was unable to succeed convincing the court when she filed a complaint against a ban on face veils in a vocational high school.13 The obligation of the students to take part in class with the appropriate clothing on was supported here by a regional law.14 According to Article 56 (4) of the Bavarian Law on Education and Teaching (BayEUG), all pupils must behave in such a way that the task of the school can be fulfilled and the educational goal can be achieved. Furthermore, pupils must refrain from doing anything that could disrupt the running of the school or the order of the school they attend. The court was of the opinion that this also included the wearing of appropriate clothing and that a niqab did not fulfil this requirement. The state’s educational mandate would be so severely impeded by a face-veil that the state could ’no longer‘ or only ’inadequately’ fulfil its mandate. With the niqab, neither clear identification nor open communication in class is possible. There emerges not only an abstract possibility of the disruption of the teaching process, but a concrete and significant impairment of it. Therefore, in the case of a niqab-ban, an explicit regulation regarding the wearing of a face-covering veil, as in the case of wearing a headscarf, is no longer necessary in accordance with the parliamentary reservation. The obligation to attend class in appropriate clothing was sufficiently clear from the relevant provision of Article 56 (4) of the BayEUG.  

The relevant guideline has since then changed. The newly inserted Article 56 (4) 2 of the BayEUG now explicitly states: "They (the pupils) may not cover their faces, in particular at school and at school events, unless school-related reasons require this; to avoid undue hardship, the school principal may allow exceptions." However, Bavarian state legislature clarified that a ban on face veiling could already be sufficiently interpreted from the existing Article 56 (4) 1 and 3 of the BayEUG and that the newly inserted sentence was only to be understood as a clarifying concretization.15 Most of the legal literature argues that a ban can be proportionate, regardless of the age and compulsory education of the child.16  

The face-veil is regarded as an ‘objective obstacle to teaching’. The student can neither be  identified for the purpose of checking attendance, nor can she really participate in class. Due to the fact that facial expressions and gestures of the veiled pupil can not be perceived by the teacher, the teacher is restricted in her ‘pedagogical interaction’. Consequently, education, especially in social behaviour, is not possible. To be able to fulfil the state's educational mandate according to Article 7 (1) of the Basic Law, the student's fundamental right from Article 4 could be interfered with. 

 Federal Constitutional Court, case from 27.01.2015, 1 BVR  471/10, 1181/10, margin 86. 

See above, margin 85.

 Sacksofsky in Scharia, Beschneidung, Islam in der Schule: Antworten des deutschen Rechts auf Fragen, die das Zusammenleben mit Muslimen aufwirft, staff paper of the Department of Law at the Goethe-University Frankfurt/M. Nr. 08/2016, margin 12.

See above, margin 86.


Osnabrück Administrative Court, case from 22.08.2016, Az. (file) 1 B 81/16, margin 31. 

See above.

Coumont in ZAR 2009, page 10.

See above.

10 Lower Saxony set to ban Islamic face veils in schools, 04.08.2017, https://www.thelocal.de/20170804/lower-saxony-set-to-ban-islamic-face-veils-in-schools,last accessed 26.07.2023.

11 Hamburg Supreme Court, case from 29.01.2020, 1 Bs 6/20, margin 24.

12 Hamburg court rules against school niqab ban, 02.03.2020, https://www.dw.com/en/hamburg-court-rules-against-school-niqab-and-burqa-ban/a-52246574, last accessed 26.07.2020.

13 People’s Court Bavaria, decision from 22.04.2014, 7 CS 13.2593, 7 C 13.2593. 

14 See above, margin 25.

15  Bayerische Landtag v. 28.03.2017, Drucksache 17/1631, page 8.

16  Coumont in YAR 2009, page 12.

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