Top French court upholds ban on 'burkini' swimsuits in Grenoble’s public pools

·2-min read

France’s top administrative court on Tuesday ruled against allowing swimmers to wear full-body “burkini” swimwear for religious reasons in public pools, arguing that it violates the principle of official government neutrality on matters of religion (secularism or "laïcité").

Led by a mayor from the Green party, the city of Grenoble voted in May to allow women to wear burkinis in public pools after campaigning by local activists.

The city also voted to allow women to swim topless as part of a broader relaxation of swimwear rules.

While worn by only a small number of primarily Muslim women in France, the burkini draws intense political debate in the country.

The prefect, or top government official, for the Grenoble region blocked the decision, arguing that wearing the burkini at municipal pools ran counter to France’s principle of "secularism" (laïcité), which calls for religious affiliation to remain a private affair and largely kept out of the public eye.

The Council of State on Tuesday upheld that decision, saying in a statement that Grenoble's initial approval of the burkini was made simply “to satisfy a religious demand” and saying the decision undermines “the neutrality of public services”.

Clothing rules in public pools in France are strict, for what authorities say are reasons of hygiene: caps are required, and baggy swim trunks or other voluminous clothing is generally banned.

A few other cities and towns allow burkinis in public pools. The city of Rennes is among them, but its decision was aimed at loosening swimwear rules generally and not based on religious reasons.

Grenoble's decision about swimming topless has not been threatened in the courts.

The UN has called on France to lift the burkini bans starting in 2016, with the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, saying the prohibitions "fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatisation of Muslims".

Colville went on to criticise "the manner in which the anti-burkini decrees have been implemented in some French resorts" as "humiliating and degrading".

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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