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Cablegate: Court Ruling On Headscarf Raises New Questions On Ban

DE RUEHFT #5016 2061420
R 251420Z JUL 06






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Court Ruling on Headscarf Raises New Questions on Ban

REF: A) 04 Frankfurt 5675; B) 05 Frankfurt 8529

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. (U) SUMMARY: On July 7, the Stuttgart Regional Court ruled that
public school teacher Doris Graber should be permitted to wear her
headscarf in class. While the court recognized that a headscarf
violates religious neutrality, it acknowledged that it cannot
prohibit a headscarf while allowing Catholic nuns to wear habits at
school. The ruling could ultimately lead to the overturn of bans in
other locations or to stricter laws banning all religious symbols.
Baden-Wuerttemberg (B-W) state officials announced that the state
would appeal the verdict. END SUMMARY.

Ruling Calls for Equal Treatment

2. (U) As reported in reftels, in April 2004, Baden-Wuerttemberg
became the first German state to ban headscarves for teachers in
public schools. In February 2006, the B-W state parliament extended
the ban to kindergarten teachers as well (ref B). Following
implementation of these bans, legal experts raised concerns
regarding equal treatment of religions. From their viewpoint,
banning religious symbols from classrooms should apply equally to
all religious confessions or could constitute discrimination. The
latest ruling from the Stuttgart Regional Court emphasizes equal
treatment -- consistent with 2004 rulings of the Federal
Administrative Court in Leipzig which upheld the ban, but stated
that it should apply equally to all religious symbols, including a
nun's clothing (ref A).

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3. (U) In their July 7 decision, the court noted that in a public
school setting, Graber's headscarf is a clear violation of the
German constitutional principle of religious neutrality. However,
the court ruled the state cannot prohibit a Muslim teacher's
headscarf while at the same time permitting nuns to wear their
traditional habits in a public school (the court cited a case
involving 3 nuns in Baden-Baden who were permitted to wear habits).
Presiding Judge Michael Schaber called the existing ban "a clear
breach of the principles of equal treatment." He also said that a
nun's habit is "clearly a religious symbol."

Setback to B-W or Victory for Tolerance?

4. (SBU) Although the court called its ruling definitive, B-W
Minister President Guenther Oettinger (CDU) announced B-W would
appeal the verdict. According to B-W Education Minister Rau, the
State will file a complaint with the Higher Administrative Court in
Mannheim to permit an appeal. (NOTE: Because the Administrative
Court had ruled that an appeal is not permissible, such a complaint
is the appropriate legal tool to counter this decision. End Note.)
CDU caucus chief Stefan Mappus publicly criticized the verdict,
opining that unlike the headscarf, the Catholic habit does not
represent the repression of women. Chairman of the B-W teachers'
union (GEW) Rainer Dahlem welcomed the verdict as a victory for
tolerance. Christian Storr, who heads the B-W state office that
handles foreigner issues, told us he expects the Mannheim court to
grant the government's request for an appeal. According to Storr,
there have been no protests from parents or complaints about
Graber's headscarf.


5. (SBU) B-W's current headscarf ban grants exceptions for Christian
and Jewish symbols, citing Baden-Wuerttemberg's Christian and Jewish
heritage. The question of equal treatment for religions, guaranteed
by the German federal constitution, and whether headscarf bans
violate that principle may ultimately be decided in the German
Federal Constitutional Court. The B-W state leadership is intent on
maintaining the headscarf ban while permitting Christian and Jewish
symbols. One thing all sides agree on is that they expect years of
legal wrangling over this contentious issue. END COMMENT.

6. (U) This Cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin and Consulate
General Leipzig.


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