Banning headscarves in Swedish elementary schools is unlawful, top court rules

By Thomas Brooke
2 Min Read

Plans by two municipalities to ban headscarves and similar garments in kindergartens and elementary schools are unlawful, Sweden’s top administrative court ruled on Thursday.

The Supreme Administrative Court, located in Stockholm, ruled that clothes which express religious affiliation are protected by both national and European laws on freedom of expression.

The two municipalities of Staffanstorp and Skurup, in the southern Swedish district of Scania, wanted to prohibit the wearing of the Islamic garments. The former had planned to ban headscarves for children in pre-school and up to and including sixth grade, while the latter proposed banning all head garments for both staff and students of early years educational facilities.

The municipalities have been at odds with the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, over the plans for some time, with the legislature regularly rejecting proposals in recent times.

A previous legal ruling had held that the proposed headscarf ban is contrary to the constitutional provision on religious freedom and to the European Convention on Human Rights, local news outlet SVT reported.

In its decision on Thursday, the Supreme Administrative Court chose to rely upon the freedom of expression principle enshrined in the European legislation, ruling that expressions of religious affiliation are protected, and extend to items of clothing.

“Limiting the right to wear a headscarf has effects on individuals and is therefore a limitation of freedom of expression,” said Sweden’s Justice Minister Ulrik von Essen in a press release on Thursday.

“For the restriction to be permissible, it must be supported by law. Such legal support is missing in national law and therefore the municipalities’ decision must be annulled,” he added.

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