The United States: The veil has not been an issue in the United States as it has been in Europe. The First Amendment forbids government from interfering with individuals’ religious preferences or dress. Students wear the veil in public schools or state colleges largely without controversy.
The case of Sultaana Freeman, an American convert to Islam (formerly known as Sandra Kellar) who started wearing a veil in 1997, is an exception. Her veil covered all but her eyes. She refused to take it off for a driver’s license photo and sued the state of Florida, where she was a resident, when it revoked her previous license (that photo, taken before 2001, had been taken with the veil on). A federal court judge ruled in 2003 that the state could compel Freeman to remove the veil for the license photo.
Canada: As in the United States, the veil has not been much of an issue in Canada, minor exceptions aside. Muslim students wear the veil to school and state employees wear it to work. But in 2007, an 11-year-old Muslim girl from Ottawa was thrown out of a soccer tournament for refusing to remove her head scarf during play. The International Football Association Board upheld the ejection. Later that year, the province of Quebec, then Canadian federal authorities, ruled that Muslim women wearing the full-face-covering veil had to remove it when ascertaining their identity before voting.
France: Wearing the veil in state schools is banned. Legislation was passed in March 2004 regulating the wearing of signs or dress manifesting a religious affiliation in State primary and secondary schools. The legislation states: “In State primary and secondary schools, the wearing of signs or dress by which pupils overtly manifest a religious affiliation is prohibited. The school rules shall state that the institution of disciplinary proceedings shall be preceded by dialogue with the pupil.” The law applies to all state schools and educational institutions, but not to state universities.
Belgium: No general ban on wearing religious signs at school. A 1994 decree stipulates that education shall be neutral within the French Community of Belgium, which includes a heavy concentration of Turkish immigrants. Pupils are in principle allowed to wear religious signs. However, they may do so only if human rights, the reputation of others, national security, public order, and public health and morals are protected and internal rules complied with. Teachers may not permit religious or philosophical proselytism under their authority. The Flemish Community has no uniform policy on whether to allow religious or philosophical signs to be worn in schools. Some do, others do not.
Germany: The debate in Germany focused on whether teachers should be allowed to wear the veil. In a case between teacher Fereshta Ludin and the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled in September 2003 that absent an explicit prohibition written into law, teachers were entitled to wear the headscarf. That meant Ludin, who was originally from Afghanistan, won the right to wear the headscarf—while the state also had the right to draft a law banning it in state schools. Germany’s population icnludes about 3.5 million mainly Turkish Muslims.
The Vatican : In November 2006, the Vatican took the sides in the debate by backing European governments that promulgate laws forbidding the wearing of the veil. Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican’s highest authority on immigration issues, called for the better integration of immigrants everywhere, but also termed it « elementary » and « quite right » that authorities would demand the removal of veils on state grounds.
Austria: No legislation governing the wearing of headscarves, turbans or the kippa.
United Kingdom: A tolerant attitude toward students wearing religious signs, especially the Muslim veil, is giving way to restrictions. In march 2007, Education Secretary Alan Johnson gave state schools authority to ban the wearing of Muslim veils on “safety, security and teaching” grounds. The policy, however, applies only to full-face-covering veils, not to mere head scarves.
In 2006, a British appeals court ruled that Shabina Begum’s human rights were violated when the 17 year old was banned from wearing a head-to-toe jilbab to school. But in Match 2006 the House of Lords overturned that decision. In October 2006, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair criticized the veil as a “mark of separation” that “makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable.”
Spain: No statutory prohibition on students wearing religious head coverings in state schools. Two royal decrees dating back to 1996 give primary and secondary schools the authority to precise dress codes. But generally speaking, state schools allow the headscarf to be worn.