Headscarves | And Now the Teachers?

Expanding the ban proposed as a “possible next step“ for new government.

Extending the current ban on religious headscarves to public school teachers could be a “possible next step,” according to Austria’s new Integration Minister, Susanne Raab (ÖVP). In an interview on ORF radio’s Ö1 Morgenjournal January 14, Raab described “a broad consensus” behind including teachers under the current ban on headscarves for primary school students.

“It’s about what kind of role models we want,” the minister said. The statements come amidst an on-going debate in Europe on regulating religious and ideological dress for civil servants and school children. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) quickly stepped in with support, telling the press he “shared her estimate of the situation.”

Not so Vice Chancellor, Werner Kogler (Grünen). “Neither I nor the Greens can envision anything like this,” he said.

Where Kurz and Kogler disagree

While everyone is “free to consider next steps,” he said, “we disagree here.” This is hardly news, as the two parties have differed on a number of issues from the start. It’s what, as both Kogler and Kurz have said repeatedly, the coalition negotiations were about. “But there’s a good basis for discussion,” stressed Club Chair Sigrid Maurer in an OE24 interview January 9th,  “which is crucial for professional cooperation.” The Social Democrats (SPÖ), too, have criticized the ban as “populist measures on the backs of Muslim women” (Nurten Yilmaz, MP, SPÖ), while suggesting that instead of a ban, more money should go into the complex process of integration (ex-Minister of Education, Sonja Hammerschmid, SPÖ)

Under the new government, the current law banning headscarves in public schools for girls 10 years old and younger will be extended to include girls through the age of 14. Raising the cut-off age was already part of the ÖVP’s election platform last fall, as was a proposal to extend the ban to include teachers. The latter, however, did not make it into the coalition program, presented on January 2.

Austria would not be the first country to impose such a restriction. In France, all civil servants, including teachers are prohibited from displaying religious symbols at work. Similar laws have also been passed in several German states as well. In Austria, the so called “Burka law” has been criticized for not including other kinds of religious headgear such as the Sikh turban (patka) or the Jewish cap (kippah).

Both of these are included in the French law, which prohibits students at public schools from displaying any kind of “ostentatious” religious symbol. The on-going debate about the regulation of religious dress and symbols has raised questions about the interplay of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and the rights of women.

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