A secondary school in the Dutch town of Volendam has won legal backing for a ban on headscarves. A 15-year-old pupil from an Islamic background lost her court battle for the right to wear a headscarf to school.
The court ruled that the headscarf ban is consistent with the Don Bosco High School’s Roman Catholic principles. Expressions of other faiths are banned on school premises. The judge found that the headscarf ban does not restrict freedom of speech and that the school is not discriminating on the basis of religion.
The Volendam girl, Imane Mahssan, has lodged an appeal against the court verdict, her lawyer told reporters on Tuesday. He said that Imane feels unjustly treated, pointing out that the school had allowed another girl to wear a headscarf on the premises. "The rules were not changed until Imane inquired whether she could wear her headscarf."
The school principal, Gerard Dekkers, said he regretted the appeal, but that he was confident about the outcome. "It is regrettable that the girl has to go through all this."
The school’s headmaster admits he has mixed feelings about the verdict.
“Of course it’s good news that all our efforts haven’t been in vain and that our arguments have been validated. But it’s also a shame that it had to go to court, which almost amounts to putting this child through the wringer. That inevitably leaves you feeling uneasy.”
Don Bosco High School introduced its headscarf ban last September, several months after the girl in question put in a request to be allowed to wear a headscarf to school. After months of not having received a response to her request, she started wearing a headscarf and the school responded by suspending her.
Initially, the school did not have a policy on headscarves, though its regulations state that pupils should respect the school’s Catholic principles. The headmaster believes that girl should have known that wearing a headscarf would be interpreted as an act that distanced her from the school’s Catholic ethos.
“We welcome pupils of any faith. But we can only do so on the basis of respect. In our view that respect does not include walking around wearing all kinds of outward signs that you believe in something else.”
Professor of Education Law Paul Zoontjens argues that the school’s position is inconsistent. Speaking to Dutch daily de Volkskrant he says “If a headscarf goes against the identity of the school, then the school shouldn’t claim that Muslims are welcome.”
The Dutch Equal Opportunities Commission previously ruled in the girl’s favour, arguing that special schools can only refuse expressions of other faiths if they can prove that this is necessary to preserve the school’s identity.
In the Commission’s judgement, that was not the case at Don Bosco High School. The girl only took her case to court when the school ignored the Commission’s non-binding ruling.
Congratulations from Wilders
Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, has been quick to congratulate the school on the verdict. On Twitter he wrote: “A just ruling! I hope many Christian schools will follow this example.”
The 15-year-old girl at the centre of the case has not yet decided whether she will appeal the decision. She is currently discussing the matter with her parents.