On Friday, the Austrian Constitutional Court annulled a law passed last year banning the wearing of the headscarf in primary schools, saying the measure was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
In a statement explaining the decision, the court said that the law “violates the principle of equality with regard to freedom of religion, belief and conscience.”
The law prohibited girls younger than 10 from wearing the headscarf, and two children and their parents had challenged it.
The measure was passed in May 2019 under the former alliance of the right-wing People’s Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), just days before that government collapsed over a corruption scandal.
Both parties had made anti-immigration rhetoric and warnings against “parallel societies” a major part of their political messages, and their spokesmen made it clear at the time that the law was targeting the veil.
However, the provision of the legislation attempted to avoid charges of discrimination by prohibiting “creedal or religiously influenced clothing associated with the head covering”.
However, the court said that the law could only be understood as targeting Islamic head coverings.
The OeVP-FPOe government itself said that the batka headdress worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish kippah would not be affected.
The new OeVP-Green coalition that took office in January had planned to extend the ban for girls under the age of 14.
The current OeVP Education Minister Heinz Vasman said the ministry “will take note of the ruling and consider his arguments.”
“I regret that girls will not have the opportunity to make their way through the education system without coercion,” he added.
In its statement, the court said that, far from promoting integration, “the ban … could lead to discrimination because it risks making Muslim girls difficult to get an education and socially excluded.”
IGGOe, the body officially recognized as representing the country’s Muslim communities, welcomed the ruling and said the court had ended the “populist prohibition policy.”
“We do not condone degrading attitudes towards women who make a decision against headscarves … nor can we agree to restrict religious freedom for Muslim women who understand that the veil is an integral part of their living religious practices,” IGGOe President mit Voral said in a statement.
At the time of the ban, IGGOe said that in any event only a “small number” of girls would be affected.