A day at the pool will be out of reach for some women in the eastern French city of Grenoble this summer after a higher court bans long swimsuits known as “burqinisin public swimming pools.
Next a series of protests by local Muslim womenthe city had issued an edict in May 2021 allowing swimmers in public swimming pools in Grenoble to use the swimwear.
But later that month, the city’s administrative tribunal overturned the decision — a ruling confirmed Tuesday by France’s highest administrative court.
In its ruling, the French Council of State invoked principles of religious neutrality and concluded that admitting the “burkini” “would undermine the equal treatment of users, jeopardizing the neutrality of public service”.
Contrary to the alleged objective of the city of Grenoble, the city’s original decision to allow the “burkini” was “intended only to satisfy a requirement of a religious nature,” the court said.
It also said Grenoble’s decision would have allowed some swimmers to break “hygiene and safety rules”.
Religious neutrality is enshrined in modern French governance principles, boosted last year by a so-called “separatism law” passed by Emmanuel Macron’s government.
The legislation, championed by right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, explicitly bans acts whose “manifest purpose is to indulge sectarian demands for religious purposes.”
Muslim women in France often struggle to access public services due to strict restrictions on the expression of religious affiliation – one reason such bans have been criticized by human rights defenders, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
The French government in 2004 forbidden “striking” religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses from French schools. Full face veils, also known as the niqab, are banned in all French public places, including public transport and parks, streets and administrative buildings.