French court forces Grenoble to backtrack on allowing burkini in public pools

·2 min read

A French administrative court has suspended the city of Grenoble's decision to allow people to wear burkini in public swimming pools.

The judges said a decision by the municipal council on 16 May that would allow all types of bathing suits – including topless bathing – would also allow full-body burkinis, and as such "gravely undermines the priciples of secularism and neutrality of public services".

The court ruled the new regulations would mean some users could ignore the dress code “in a religious manner”, and that the "possibility of going to the pool in a burkini risks turning into an obligation".

The judges heard the case after the interior ministry filed an objection to the ruling under the law to counter “Islamist separatism” passed by parliament in August 2021 last year, which allows for the government to challenge decisions it considers undermine France’s secularism.

Grenoble’s Green mayor, Eric Piolle, who had put forward the change in the rules in the first place, announced that the city would appeal the court’s decision to the Council of State.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Twitter welcomed the court’s decision as “excellent news”.

Ongoing debate over burkinis

The ruling is just the latest in dispute over burkinis - full body covering swimsuits that leave only the face and hands exposed.

Several mayors of cities on the Mediterranean coast attempted to ban burkinis on beaches in the summer of 2016, after a string of terror attacks in France

The bans were struck down by courts as discriminatory.

Rights groups say burkini bans restrict fundamental liberties and discriminate against Muslim women.

Critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe.

The Grenoble court picked up on arguments put forward Pascale Léglise, director of public liberties and legal affairs at the interior ministry, who represented the government, who said that “once the burkini becomes not forbidden, it will become an strong obligation”.

She called out “pressure” on the mayor from the Alliance Citoyenne, an association that has since 2019 organised several protests in Grenoble to allow the burkini in pools.

The group also supports the ‘Hijabeuuses’, who are pushing the French Federation of Football to allow players to wear hijabs, or head coverings, in competition.

Aude Evin, the lawyer representing the city of Grenoble, told the court that the new rules do not authorise the burkini, which is not even mentioned in the text, but they do not ban it, either.

“Only the law is able to restrict the exercise of a freedom,” she said.

Far-right party leader Marine Le Pen - who came second after President Emmanuel Macron in presidential elections in April – has said she wants to introduce a law banning burkinis in municipal pools.

(with wires)

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