Freedom row over teacher's headscarf

24th July 1998 at 01:00

A German citizen of Afghan origin has been barred from taking up a full-time teaching post until she gives up wearing a headscarf.

The decision of the education authority in the state of Baden-Wuerttemburg has made Fereshta Ludin, 25, an important symbol for religious freedom and tolerance, because she refuses to take off her scarf while teaching.

The state's education minister, Annette Schavan, a Christian Democrat and practising Catholic, said that wearing a veil was not one of the religious duties of a Muslim woman. "It is a symbol of cultural distinction and therefore a political sign," she said. A teacher acts as a role model, which entails "expressing tolerance".

But the case has caused uproar. "Will we in future ban the wearing of the Jewish skullcap, or monks' and nuns' habit in schools and universities, " asked Cem Ozdemir, a Green party parliamentarian of Turkish origin.

Others said Ms Schavan was entering a theological debate that even Muslim imams (religious leaders) have yet to resolve.

"It would be a more effective symbol of tolerance to allow Ms Ludin her headscarf," said another Green party politician. Even the evangelical bishop of Baden backed Ms Ludin on grounds of religious freedom.

But the main political parties and federal education minister Juergen Ruettgers support Ms Schavan. The opposition Social Democrats said Ms Ludin's headscarf was against the interests of the many Turkish schoolgirls "who wish to identify with the norms of our (German) society".

Ms Ludin herself has not commented in public for more than a year, unwilling to antagonise parents and teachers in the small town where she teaches.

However, she has said in the past that she began to wear a headscarf at the age of 13, despite being brought up in a "religiously neutral" household. She said that the scarf is not a religious statement but part of her personality.

Ironically, a year ago Ms Schavan intervened on Ms Ludin's behalf to allow her to begin her practical training, despite protests. The education mnister now claims the decision to bar Ms Ludin from a job is not unconstitutional because it is an "individual case" and not a general ban against headscarves in schools.

However, the GEW, the teachers' union, said it would support Ms Ludin in a legal challenge, likely to be an important test case for teachers' freedom.

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