Francisco Ferrer Brussels University college enacted a ban on headscarves, causing a group of Muslim women to file a claim against the university, which was subsequently sent to The Constitutional Court of Belgium for a ruling. The Constitutional Court, in its June 4th opinion, upheld that a ban on headscarves by a university is not considered a violation of the constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights. The possibility of a ban also applies to all symbols representing religious or political opinions.
Belgium’s History with Religious Legislation
While the recent ruling may seem unpredictable to many, Belgium has a history of rulings that discriminate against it’s Muslim community. Discussions from courts regarding wearing headscarves in schools in Belgium began in the 90s. In July of 2017, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on full face veil coverings. In the opinion, the court stated the ban does not violate the European Convention of Human Rights. Current legislation also bans the wearing of religious headscarves for those working as a judge, teacher, police, or clerk.
The Constitutional Court’s Recent Ruling
The Constitutional Court has received backlash due to the fact that the recent ruling would set the precedent to allow universities to place a ban on headscarves. While the court’s ruling has been minimally covered by media outside of Belgium, individuals have taken to the streets and social media to express their discontent with the ruling.
On July 5th, a protest took place at Mons De Arts organized by feminist collectivists such as Imazi.Reine, Belges Comme Vous, and La Cinquieme Vague. Over a thousand individuals took to the streets in Brussels to demonstrate against the decision. Protestors in attendance were diverse and included Muslim women wearing their graduation caps over their headscarves.
Two campaigns via instagram and twitter, #HijabisFightBack and #TouchePasAMesEtudes (“hands off my studies”), were created and showcase residents, activists, and students expressing their feelings on the discriminatory decision.
With the social media campaigns and in person demonstrations, pressure has mounted against universities in Belgium to announce their stance regarding the ruling of the Constitutional Court. As of July 14th, more than 10 Belgian universities including Free University of Brussels have stated they will not uphold the ban. In a tweet, the Free University of Brussels stated, “Equality and inclusion are central to the VUB. Diversity is a fact, at our university as well. So let it be clear that every student is welcome with us regardless of gender, origin or social status. With or without headscarf.”
The ruling leaves many students feeling as if the future of their studies is uncertain. Fatima Zohra Ait El Maâti of Imazi Reine stated in an interview with Belgian radio that, “hundreds of students may have to give up their studies.”
The Council of European Muslims released a statement sharing a similar sentiment regarding the ruling. “Some will, unfortunately, give up on their dreams and will be forced to remove the hijab to get an education.”