“Need honest discussion about headscarf motives”

Headscarves in school © Frank Rumpenhorst

Berlin's Senator of Justice, Dirk Behrendt of the Green Party, has announced an amendment to Berlin's neutrality law before the end of this legislative period. Teachers should be allowed to wear religious clothing in schools.

Prominent lawyer and liberal mosque founder Seyran Ates represented the state of Berlin in court several times when lawsuits were filed against the state's blanket ban on headscarves. The Catholic News Agency (KNA) spoke with her Tuesday in Berlin about the change of course now announced by Behrendt.

CBA: Ms. Ates, were you surprised by Justice Senator Behrendt's announcement??

Seyran Ates (lawyer and founder of a mosque): I was very surprised that the ie – without necessity – was raised again. The senator of justice seems to have an obsession with this ie. On the other hand, it must be seen as an election campaign. In September is the next election for the House of Representatives. And just the Berlin Greens have allied themselves in the past years ever more strongly with conservative Muslims, and there the topic head cloth for female teachers belongs to it.

CBA: But is the amendment not long overdue? Most recently, at the end of August, the Federal Labor Court also ruled against a blanket ban on headscarves for female teachers at Berlin schools, because it represented a disproportionate encroachment on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.

Ates: This is not true. The court did not oppose it. It also did not say that it would be a disproportionate interference. The written judgement including the reasoning is not yet available. We will have to wait and see. In the proceedings, however, the court did say that Berlin's neutrality law in itself is basically okay in terms of the idea and is compatible with the Constitution. What needs to be reformed is the wording with regard to the exceptions. The Federal Labor Court has found a way to interpret it in a way that is consistent with the Verfang. We must wait for the reasoning of the verdict. But what you should know is that the Federal Labor Court has not declared the neutrality law unconstitutional. It still applies.

CBA: But the court upheld the claim of the plaintiff Muslim teacher applicant for damages for discrimination.

Ates: According to the Federal Labor Court, the law is not coherent, i.e. not clear enough in itself. This is about the exception that headscarves are allowed at vocational schools and institutions of the second educational pathway. Legally, the question of the interpretation of the law in conformity with the constitution was discussed. And that's when the law saw too much room for interpretation in Berlin's neutrality law. In my opinion, the problem in the public discussion is the parallel levels of discussion: On the one hand, the legal formulation of constitutional conformity, and on the other hand, the political discussion about the headscarf. This quickly leads to conflations.

CBA: What is there to say against female teachers wearing headscarves in state schools??

Ates: The matter is complex. I think we finally need an honest discussion about the motives for wearing the scarf. There is no clear theological basis for the Muslim headscarf. The majority argument is that the woman should hide her sexual charms in public so that the man is not distracted by them. Say: The woman is reduced to a sexual object. A woman who wears the headscarf knows that, takes over this valuation consciously and subordinates itself to this degradation. A teacher with headscarf always transports the message: "I wear a headscarf, so that men are not sexually attracted by my beauty."In addition it is faded out that those, which are forced to veil themselves, have a much smaller lobby. These girls and women can only reveal themselves at the risk of their lives.

CBA: The "problem" exists in all areas where people publicly represent the state and appear in the name of the law.

Ates: Yes. It is always also a matter of presenting to the outside world that the state keeps away from religious symbols and world views as far as possible. Mind you, not in the sense of dissociation, that he rejects or evaluates something. That is why the neutrality law – which is often overlooked – is also a law that affects all religions and worldviews. A T-shirt with the inscription "Godless happy" is also affected by it.

CBA: How concretely the amendment of the law is to look, is not fixed yet. What is non-negotiable from your point of view??

Ates: The neutrality law itself. It is a very good law for this multicultural, multireligious and multiethnic city of Berlin. If you look honestly at the many concerns and problems in many schools, not just in hot spots, you can't help but say: we need less religious charge than more. Mind you, we need the religions and world views for the teaching of knowledge. I don't want less, I want more at schools, much more. So that children gain a breadth of knowledge and reduce prejudices. But a teacher with a headscarf can't, because she can never say: "It's also okay if you don't wear a headscarf"."Nonverbally, she always signals that the headscarf is the correct attire.

CBA: But why not? She can still say that the headscarf is just a decision she made for herself, but others can make different decisions.

Ates: But then she would always have to explain that decisively. In this debate, there is always the argument that she could wear it voluntarily. Yes, but that doesn't change the reason why she wears it, which is to avoid exposing her sexual charms to men. That may be their conviction. But we expect teachers to be able to convey objectivity and neutrality in terms of character and attitude – and a teacher wearing a headscarf can never do that, because she has made a clear decision at one point: in favor of patriarchy and seeing herself as a sexual object.

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