By Elham Asaad Buaras
The Paris Appeals Court, overturning a high court decision, ruled on November 27 that a private nursery school was justified in firing an assistant director who refused to remove her hijab.
The case was a landmark test on whether France’s ban on any religious symbols being displayed in state institutions could be applied to what was a privately run nursery.
The decision was the fourth in the case of the firing of Fatima Afif at the Baby Loup nursery in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, west of Paris, five years ago.
Laws already ban the hijab in public school classrooms and face-covering veils in public spaces. There is no French law regulating religious apparel in private institutions, schools or companies. Many Muslims have seen the two laws in place as an infringement on their religious freedom and freedom of expression.
In the case of the nursery school, the Appeals Court ruled that Baby Loup had a right to impose internal rules on its employees banning hijabs and other ostentatious religious symbols “to transcend the multiculturalism” of those using its services. It noted that the school received some state subsidies.
Afif was fired from her job at the private nursery for refusing remove her hijab. After years of legal battles and appeals, France’s highest court ruled that Afif was unfairly fired as a victim of “religious discrimination”.
In a summary of its ruling, the court explained that because Baby Loup was a private institution whose staff did not provide a public service, the French value of secularism did not apply. It also ordered the nursery school to pay a fine of 2,500 euros to Afif.
The French Government’s Observatory of Laicité, which helps guide official action regarding respect for secularism, noted after the ruling that it had recommended a circular containing guidelines outlining what the law allows and what it forbids. The Observatory said it will be issuing its own guide on the issue.
Secularism has long been a hot-button issue in France, which passed a controversial law in 2011 banning women from wearing the niqab, or full Islamic veil, in public spaces, punishable by a fine of 150 euros. In 2004, the country passed a separate law forbidding any and all “conspicuous signs of religion” in public schools.