On Wednesday, Austrian lawmakers from the governing coalition of the Conservative People’s Party and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) passed a law aimed at banning the headscarf in elementary schools.
The new law prohibits the wearing of ‘ideologically or religiously characterized clothing’ that covers the head, and refers specifically to items ‘that cover the whole or large parts of the hair.’
The law was passed as Muslims around the world celebrate the month of Ramadan.
Nearly all Austria’s opposition party MEPs voted against the measure.
Members from Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Conservative People’s Party acknowledged that the new headscarf ban would likely be challenged as ‘discriminatory’ in Austria’s Constitutional Court.
Late Wednesday night, the government commented that the Jewish yarmulke or the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys wouldn’t be affected since the law only refers to head garments which ‘cover all of the hair or large parts of it.’
The new law states that exceptions are to be made for head coverings that are worn for medical reasons or for protection against rain or snow.
Muslim girls generally begin wearing headscarves once they start puberty.
Rudolf Taschner of the Conservative People’s Party said that the law was designed to ‘free girls from subjugation,’ while Wendelin Mölzer – an education spokesman for the Freedom Party – said the law was intended to send a clear signal ‘against political Islam’ and looked to promote integration.
Sonja Hammerschmid, a former Social Democrat Party education minister, accused the government of attempting to make headlines instead of trying to resolve education and integration challenges.
Austria’s official Muslim community organization, IGGÖ, has stated that it would legally challenge what it has called a ‘destructive’ law which ‘discriminates exclusively against Muslims.’
In 2017, the Austrian government banned full-face veils (burkas) in courts, schools, and other public places as a part of its integration policy which aimed to limit the visibility to orthodox Islam in public life. Police officers, judges, magistrates, and public prosecutors are also prohibited from wearing them.
The Austrian government isn’t the only European government to enact such policies.
In 2018, the Danish government enacted a ban on wearing full-face veils in public as well, joining France and other EU countries. The Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria, and the German state of Bavaria, have also imposed restrictions on the wearing of burkas in public.