PARIS – France’s highest administrative court is considering whether it’s legal for towns to ban body-covering burkini swimsuits, which have become a symbol of tensions around the place of Islam in secular France.
After human rights groups challenged a local burkini ban, the Council of State is scheduled to issue a ruling Friday afternoon.
At a hearing Thursday, lawyers for the rights groups argued that the bans are feeding fear and infringe on basic freedoms. Mayors who have banned burkinis cite concern about public order after deadly Islamic extremist attacks this summer, and many officials argue that burkinis oppress women. The swimsuits cover the head, torso and limbs.
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The bans have divided France’s government and society and drawn anger abroad, especially after images circulated online showing French police appearing to force one Muslim woman to take off her tunic.
The legal challenge focused on the ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet on the French Riviera, but the Council’s ruling will be binding for all the 30 or so towns that have banned the burkini.
Critics say the bans are feeding a racist political agenda as campaigning for next year’s French presidential elections kicks off.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced this week he’s seeking the conservative nomination for the 2017 race, said at a rally Thursday night in southern France that he wants a law banning the burkini “on the entire territory of the Republic.”