The council in the French city of Grenoble has relaxed its rules regarding swimsuits in state-run swimming pools, authorizing women to wear a one-piece burkini favored by some Muslims while also enabling women to expose their breasts.
The controversial decision announced on Monday will likely reignite a debate on tolerance towards religious dress across the country.
Grenoble Mayor Éric Piolle came up with a proposal for a burkini permit and only narrowly pushed the motion through, which passed with 29 votes to 27 opposed following more than two hours of contentious debate in the council chamber.
The relaxation of the rules will also apply to men, who can now come to the pool in loose shorts, while previously only being permitted to wear tight-fitted swimwear.
“We want women and men to dress the way they want,” Piolle told the RMC broadcaster.
The head of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, has already warned that the city could lose public funding due to the authorization of the Islamic swimwear.
Former mayor Alain Carignon believes that such an important decision should come from a referendum.
“I am convinced that what Mr. Piolle is advocating would lead our country to a dead end,” Wauquiez said in early May, accusing the mayor of “concluding agreements with political Islam” to secure the favor of Muslim voters.
The wearing of religious symbols in public is a very delicate issue in France, especially given the emphasis placed on the separation of church and state. In 2011, the country became the first European state to pass a law banning the wearing of religious symbols in public, including veils and headscarves.
In 2016, bans on the wearing of the burkini, a swimsuit with which some Muslim women use to cover their entire body, including their hair, began to appear in France. The disputes have sparked burkini bans on Mediterranean beaches, for example.
By contrast, the northern French city of Rennes allowed burkinis in swimming pools as early as 2019.