No place for burkinis in Grenoble’s public swimming pools, French court rules

70th Cannes Film Festival – Cannes, France. 27/05/2017. Karima, dressed in a full-body burkini bathing suit, walks on a beach in Cannes after the call to support the wearing of burkinis by businessman and political activist Rachid Nekkaz. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

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PARIS, June 21 (Reuters) – Full-body swimsuits, including the burkini, should not be worn in public swimming pools in the city of Grenoble, France’s highest administrative court ruled on Tuesday, upholding an earlier order from a lower court.

Grenoble’s city council had voted in favor of the use of burkinis on May 16, sparking protests from conservative and far-right politicians who said the move would undermine France’s principle of secularism in public life.

Full-body swimsuits – with only the face, hands and feet visible – are often worn by Muslim women who wish to maintain their modesty in accordance with their beliefs.

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“The new rules of procedure for the municipal swimming pools of Grenoble (…) affect the proper functioning of the public service and undermine the equal treatment of users, thus endangering the neutrality of the public service”, the Conseil d Etat said in a statement.

In a statement after the ruling was published, Grenoble’s city council said: “The municipality regrets that the Conseil d’Etat attributes its intentions to which it does not have”. It said its main goal was to ensure equal treatment for all users.

Burkini advocates argue that some women without a burkini would choose, or be pressured by relatives, to stay away from public swimming pools.

Grenoble’s move was challenged by the French government and a lower administrative court suspended the measure. Grenoble responded by submitting his legal battle to the Conseil d’Etat.

After the ruling, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Grenoble’s act was “definitely set aside”.

“A victory for… secularism and especially for the Republic,” Darmanin said.

The debate over burkinis has been raging in France since 2016, when a city in the south tried to ban them from public beaches. On that occasion, the Conseil d’Etat overturned the ban as it violated fundamental freedoms.

There is no nationwide ban, but they are banned in many public swimming pools across the country.

Far-right party leader Marine Le Pen – who came second to incumbent Emmanuel Macron in April’s presidential election and who scored a breakthrough in Sunday’s parliamentary election – has said she wants to pass a law banning burkinis in municipal swimming pools.

Muslim rights groups in France have said bans on burkinis curtail fundamental freedoms and discriminate against Muslim women.

France, which has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, introduced a ban in 2010 on wearing niqabs and burqas in public.

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Report by Juliette Jabkhiro and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Tassilo Hummel, Richard Lough, William Maclean and Mark Heinrich

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