Swedish court OVERTURNS schoolgirl hijab ban, saying it denies ‘freedom of expression’
- The schoolgirl headscarf ban was passed by Staffanstorp in 2019
- The municipality barred children from wearing the items in preschools and primary schools up to year six
- Sweden’s Supreme Court argued this contravenes freedom of expression laws
Sweden’s Supreme Court has reversed the schoolgirl headscarf ban passed by the municipality of Staffanstorp in 2019, arguing that it contravenes freedom of expression laws.
Staffanstorp, in the county of Skåne, southern Sweden, where the Moderates rule in coalition with the far-right Sweden Democrats, wanted to bar children from wearing headscarves in preschools and primary schools up to year six, effectively banning children under 12.
In Skurup, another municipality run by the Sweden Democrats, politicians had pushed for a ban for children and staff in preschools and primary schools.
Parliament has previously shut down proposals to ban headscarves.
The Supreme Court instead used Sweden’s freedom of expression law to back up its ruling, stating that expressions of religious affiliation, such as clothing, are covered by this
The parliament’s committee on the constitution has said that it has no plans for legislation banning the item of clothing, either for children in particular schools or in wider society.
Both Skåne municipalities have been pursuing the headscarf issue for several years.
In a previous decision, the Administrative Court said the headscarf ban the two municipalities wanted to implement contravenes both the European Convention on Human Rights and protections on religious freedom under Swedish constitutional laws.
The Supreme Court instead used Sweden’s freedom of expression law to back up its ruling, stating that expressions of religious affiliation, such as clothing, are covered by this.
‘Limiting the right to wear a headscarf has effects on individuals and is therefore a limitation of freedom of expression,’ Justice Ulrik von Essen said in a press release, as reported by The Local Sweden.
‘For the limitation to be permitted, it must be supported by law. Such legal support is missing in national law and therefore the municipalities’ decision must be annulled,’ he said.
The parliament’s committee on the constitution has said that it has no plans for legislation banning the item of clothing, either for children in particular schools or in wider society
Staffanstorp’s vote to ban headscarves in 2019 formed part of an ‘integration plan’ for the town, which was drawn up by the centre-right Moderate Party and the populist Sweden Democrats.
‘The headscarf is a symbol that women are not available. It’s a sexualisation of women and it’s unreasonable to do that to young girls,’ Christian Sonesson, the town’s Moderate Party mayor, told the local Sydsvenskan newspaper at the time.
‘I have nothing against adult women wearing headscarves, but these are small children, little girls.’
Seven out of 11 voted in favour of the measure in May of that year.
Pierre Sjöström, a councillor for the town’s Social Democrat opposition said Sonesson was ‘foregrounding a non-problem’.
‘It’s just cosmetic. The Moderates don’t even know if we have pupils who wear headscarves. This is a solution to a problem that we don’t have,’ he told the newspaper.
Speaking to Swedish broadcaster SR, Andreas Lindholm, a lawyer for the Swedish National Agency for Education, argued the measure was religious discrimination and therefore contravened the law.
‘We ruled that it is not permitted or compatible with religious freedom or discrimination laws to bring in a blanket ban against the veil in schools,’ he said.
In February 2017 the Swedish government was forced to defend its decision to have its officials wear headscarves during a trip to Iran, saying that failing to do so would have broken the law.
Trade Minister Ann Linde led a business team that month and was criticised by Swedish politicians for wearing the item.