The Islamic head scarf in court of law?

Should female judges be allowed to wear the Muslim head scarf in court or is this kind of religious dress code violating the secular state’s principle of neutrality?



Recently Denmark’s Court Agency decided that female judges should have the right to wear the head scarf in court of law.


The Court Agency was established in 1999 by the Ministry of Justice in order to manage and develop Denmark’s courts, and president of the Supreme Court has on several occasions called on immigrants to become judges.


Last summer the Association of Judges made it clear that judges have to appear neutral in court in every possible way. The association added that judges’ physical appearance and behaviour are key to the courts’ credibility in the eyes of their fellow citizens.


Furthermore, Tyge Trier, an expert on the International Human Rights Court in Strasbourg asserted that European parliaments would not be in breach of fundamental human rights, were they to pass a law banning the head scarf in the court of law.


Yesterday the Danish government was expected to make its position clear on the head scarf, but it refrained from making any decision, though reports have indicated that the center right government was in favor of a ban.


The lack of action has prompted political commentator Ralf Pittelkow to criticise the government and the Court Agency for inadequate knowledge about the political and religious implications of the head scarf:



”It should be a very simple matter to decide. The prime minister and the minister of justice have both said that judges have to appear neutral in court of law. Nobody can claim that an Islamic head scarf is religiously neutral. It’s not even politically neutral,” writes Pittelkow in Jyllands-Posten.


Neutrality, he says, ”stresses that the courts in a secular democracy are independent of political and religious interests. A judge who find it necessary to show his religious affiliation in the court of law will call the neutrality of the court into doubt…And the doubt is legitimate. The scarf is not a piece of random clothing. It is closely connected to a certain point of view on the relationship between religion and society.


Contrary to Christianity Islam is a law religion. It demands that one observe certain rules, and within orthodox Islam women have to cover their head in order not to tempt sexual desire in men. This rule is connected to other rules dealing with the rights of women and blasphemy limiting the right to free speech, and rules dealing with the agreement between laws and the Koran that put limitations on democracy. It follows that the Islamic head scarf just isn’t a question of religion, it’s also a question of law and politics.”



Pittelkow concludes:


”You have to choose: Either one is protecting the secular law based state, or one gives in to Islam. It’s the same with the right to free speech (the cartoon crisis): Either you insist on this fundamental right or you submit to Islamic rule. It’s a question of what kind of society you want. It’s a political issue that cannot be left to the Court Association.”


What do you think? Should judges be allowed to wear the Islamic head scarf in court of law or is this a violation of the secular principle of neutrality?   



To manage and develop Denmark’s courts


The Headscarf


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