Overturning the Burqini Ban

France’s highest administrative court suspended a prohibition on full-body swimwear in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, and the decision is expected to set a legal precedent across the country.

A women wearing a burqini at the beach.
A women wearing a burqini at the beach. (Fadel Senna / Getty)

NEWS BRIEF  Authorities in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet do not have the right to ban the burqini, France’s highest administrative court ruled Friday in a landmark decision.

Though it only applies to the French Riviera town, the ruling from the State Council is expected to set a legal precedent for the 26 towns where the ban has been in place. It reads:

In Villeneuve-Loubet, there is no evidence that there were any risks that public order was disturbed by people's choice of bathing garment. With such risks being absent, the mayor could not implement a measure prohibiting access to the beach and bathing. The judges of the State Council thus suspend this ban.

The State Council’s decision overturns a lower court ruling on Monday, which said the swimsuit ban was “necessary, appropriate, and proportionate” to preventing public disorder. France’s Human Rights League (LDH) and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) appealed this decision Thursday, arguing the proscription on the full-body swimwear favored by some Muslim women infringed on individuals’ basic freedoms.

Patrice Spinosi, the lawyer representing the LDH, said towns where the ban is in place should adopt the precedent, and all women who received 38-euro fines for wearing the burqini can have them contested.

“Today the state of law is that these ordinances are not justified,” Spinosi said of the decision Friday. “They violate fundamental liberties and they should be withdrawn."

The ruling, however, hasn’t put a halt on the ban altogether, with several French mayors insisting they will continue to fine those wearing the burqini despite the high court’s decision. David Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, called the court’s ruling a “victory for radical Islam” and said the city’s ban on the garment will remain.

“I maintain my anti-#burkini order, because it is still valid, the #StateCouncil spoke only of #VilleneuveLoubet,” he tweeted.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who vocally came out in favor of banning the swimsuit, which he called “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic,” said the debate is far from over.

“The ruling of the State Council does not end the debate that has opened in our society on the issue of the burkini,” Valls said in a statement Friday. “This debate is not trivial.”

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party, called the decision “regrettable” and urged lawmakers to impose a national ban on the swimsuit.

“The fight against communitarianism, to protect women, to assert secularism and our way of life, the legislature has the sole authority to act. … Just as before with the teachers on the issue of the veil in schools, mayors today with the burkini can not be left alone, powerless against the pressure of Islamic fundamentalists,” Le Pen said in a statement.

The ruling follows weeks of nationwide debate over the place the conservative swimwear has in France, whose secularist laws prohibit displays of religion in certain settings. In 2010, the country became the first in Europe to ban the burqa, a full-faced veil favored by some Muslim women, in public. In 2004, religious symbols—including headscarves, yarmulkes, and large crosses—were banned from public schools.