The South of France is the midst of controversy once again for laws against women who choose to wear religious attire. Mandelieu-la-Napoule’s mayor, Henri Leroy, issued a letter stating that the international retailer H&M must prohibit employees from wearing a hijab.
The letter was dated April 24, but it was published again by a local newspaper on Wednesday. Leroy has been the mayor since 1995 and is affiliated with the Les Républicans party. The 72-year-old said that he has been receiving complaints from local customers who feel the women wearing hijabs are breaking the secularity laws. However, the local laws dictate neutrality and secularism can be imposed in public places only, and H&M is the private sector.
The retail giant replied to the mayor’s complaint, stating that its policy is to allow employees to wear and dress as they wish within the limits set by law and that by wearing a veil or hijab, they are not breaking any rules.
France has longstanding laws on secularism. The bans push the legal envelope on two national laws that amount to dress codes — no headscarves in classrooms and no face-covering veils in the streets, which were passed in 2004 and 2010, respectively.
In 2016, local authorities barred women from wearing the burkini — a full-body swimsuit — and fined or arrested those who did. Just recently, nine women were arrested for attempting to wear burkinis at a beach in Nice.
However, after long protests and contingencies against these laws, the prohibition of the full-coverage swimwear in the French Riviera was overruled by France’s top administrative court. But local laws against it are still in effect, allowing police to enforce them.
Many call these laws discriminatory and a violation of individual rights. A Twitter commenter in French said about the incident: “The law guarantees everyone the right to freely exercise religion. I don’t see police bothering priests or nuns on the street.”
But there are other French nationals who agree with the bans. “Stop political Islam in France,” wrote a commenter, in French, on Leroy’s Facebook page. “I support your decision,” he added.
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