Germany’s highest court on Thursday upheld a ban on headscarves for Muslim trainee lawyers in courts, finding that the requirement of maintaining religious neutrality was justified.
The Federal Constitutional Court’s ruling came after a Frankfurt-born German-Moroccan legal trainee filed a challenge to Hesse state’s rules.
In the western state, trainees who keep their headscarves on are not allowed to take on tasks in which they may be seen to be acting as representatives of the judiciary or the state.
This means for instance that headscarf-wearing trainees are not allowed to sit on the judges’ bench as they observe proceedings like other trainees, and must instead sit among courtroom observers.
Likewise, they are unable to lead any courtroom sessions, or take evidence from witnesses.
Thursday’s ruling was expected to impact a wider debate on the issue in Germany, home to around 4.5 million Muslims, and where rules on use of the hijab differ between the 16 federal states.
German national law bans all civil servants from covering their faces, including with Muslim niqabs and burkas – except for health and safety reasons, such as firefighters wearing breathing apparatus.
But there is no nationwide ban on civil servants wearing the hijab and many states weigh the trade-off between freedom of religion and civil servants’ neutrality rules on a case-by-case basis.
A Berlin labour court in 2018 barred a teacher who wore the headscarf from teaching primary school classes, but found the she could continue teaching older vocational students in a public secondary school in the German capital.