Cablegate: Headscarf Verdict Likely to Generate New

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 98 Frankfurt 6465; 00 Frankfurt 3078;

01 Frankfurt 6028

1. SUMMARY: In a landmark decision, the Federal
Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled September 24 that
Fereshta Ludin (a German teacher of Afghan descent) may
teach in a public school without removing her headscarf, but
strengthened the authority of German states to regulate
religious expression. Based on early media coverage, most
states in SW Germany appear set to restrict religious
expression by public employees. In a five-to-three
decision, the judges decided that while the plaintiff may
wear her headscarf under the current Baden-Wuerttemberg
constitution, state parliaments may pass laws regulating or
forbidding the practice in schools. Commentators predicted
a new wave of restrictive laws, and complained that the
mixed verdict will lead to more legal challenges. END

2. In 1998, Fereshta Ludin (a teacher and German citizen
from Afghanistan) applied for a position with civil servant
status at a public school in Stuttgart (Baden-Wuerttemberg /
B-W). When Ludin stated that her Muslim religious beliefs
require her to wear a headscarf during classroom
instruction, the Stuttgart Office of Education rejected her
candidacy. In February 1999, Ludin filed a complaint at the
Administrative Court in Stuttgart, which rejected her case
in March 2000. In follow-on appeals, the B-W State
Administrative Court and the Federal Administrative Court in
Berlin upheld the decision against Ludin, emphasizing the
necessity of maintaining neutrality and the right of pupils
not to be exposed to religious symbols (reftels).

3. In its current decision, Germany's highest court framed
the issue as a conflict between the need for neutrality in
public schools and freedoms of religion and employment. The
majority held that the German Basic Law grants states far-
reaching authority over education, including the power to
regulate religious symbols and conditions of employment.
The court held that state legislatures have the power to
strike the balance between religious freedom and neutrality
towards students. Under the new verdict, community
traditions and the religious make-up of the population are
legitimate considerations, and various states may legislate
different solutions. The court returned the Ludin case to
the Federal Administrative Court in Berlin, which can compel
B-W to give Ludin a teaching certificate or can wait until
the B-W state parliament enacts legislation (most likely a
ban on headscarves for public school teachers).

4. In a minority opinion, the dissenting judges argued that
wearing a headscarf violates the neutrality required of
civil servants. The minority criticized also the court's
insufficient guidance to the B-W state government on how to
proceed until a new law is passed.

5. Local political leaders reacted cautiously to the
verdict. B-W Minister President Erwin Teufel (CDU -
Christian Democratic Union) and Education Minister Annette
Schavan (CDU) said only that they would carefully study the
Karlsruhe decision. All four parties in the B-W state
parliament (CDU, SPD - Social Democrats, FDP - Free
Democrats, and Greens), however, announced they would move
quickly to pass legislation requiring neutrality in public
schools (i.e., against headscarves). Islamic leaders and
human rights advocates criticized the verdict. The chairman
of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Nadeem Elyas,
complained that the court did not guarantee the rights of
Muslim women and indicated that Muslims will continue
fighting restrictions.

6. COMMENT: The Fereshta Ludin verdict has opened the door
for state parliaments to restrict religious expression in
public employment. Conservative governments in Baden-
Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Saarland, and Bavaria, as well as the
leftist government of Berlin, have announced that they will
enact laws to ban the wearing of headscarves by public
school teachers (Munich 0924). Legislators in Rheinland-
Pfalz (SPD-FDP), on the other hand, have indicated that they
will not ban the practice. Because the verdict upheld
Ludin's right (for the moment) to wear a headscarf, a few
conservative politicians have used the occasion to criticize
the court's earlier "crucifix verdict" which requires
schools to remove crosses from classroom walls if so
requested. Judging from media coverage, many non-Muslims in
Germany appear unsympathetic to Ludin's cause, regarding it
as an issue of professional duty rather than religious
freedom. The mixed verdict is likely to mean more lawsuits
in those states that enact bans. END COMMENT.


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