Top French Court Upholds Ban on ‘Burkini’ in Grenoble’s Public Pools

Photo credit: SIPA

The top administrative court in France ruled against allowing swimmers to wear full-body swimwear, known as burkini, for religious reasons in public pools. 

The court said that the swimwear, known as a “burkini,” violates the principle of official government neutrality on matters of religion. The Burkini is worn by a small number of primarily Muslim women in France but draws intense political debate in the country. 

Last month, the city of Grenoble voted to allow women to wear burkinis in public pools. But a top government official for the Grenoble region blocked the decision, arguing that wearing a burkini at public city pools counters France’s principle of “secularism,” which calls for religious affiliation to remain a private affair and largely kept out of the public eye.

The Council of State this week upheld this decision. In a statement, it said that the original approval of the burkini was made “to satisfy a religious demand,” and that the decision undermines the “neutrality of public services.” 

In France, clothing rules in public pools are strict. Authorities say the reasons are primarily because of hygiene. Caps are required, and baggy swim trunks and other baggy clothing are generally banned. 

Some other cities and towns in France allow burkinis in public pools. In Rennes, for example, burkinis are allowed. The city’s decision was aimed at loosening swimwear rules altogether, not based on religious reasons, it said. 

The United Nations has weighed in on the matter, calling on France to lift the ban on burkinis. The UN first called on this in 2016, saying that the prohibitions fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatization of Muslims.” 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said that the manner in which burkinis have been banned and implemented is both “humiliating and degrading.” 

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