The fight between the French government and the city of Grenoble over burkinis

The city of Grenoble has contacted the government to find out whether the burkini should be authorized in swimming pools. The case will now go to the highest court in the land

The burkini has been controversial in France since 2016. Representative image/AFP

The burkini – a swimsuit that covers the whole body except the face – is at the center of a political row between the French city of Grenoble and the state. The city, which relaxed the swimsuit rule, allowing burkinis, in outdoor pools, has now taken the government to the nation’s highest administrative court.

How the controversy started

In May, Grenoble authorized the wearing of the “burkini” in public swimming pools, reigniting one of the most controversial debates in France on the swimsuit mainly worn by Muslim women. Mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s most prominent green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition on city council, had defended the move.

Although the rules approved by the city council did not name the burkini, they allowed people to wear any type of bathing suit, including letting men or women cover themselves fully or allowing women to wear themselves. put bare breasts in the same way as men.

Why is Grenoble in difficulty?

The French state has taken legal action against the town at the foot of the French Alps.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had opposed allowing the burkini in municipal swimming pools, calling it an “unacceptable provocation”. According to him, it was contrary to the French rules of secularism.

Following instructions from the government, the governor of Isère, in southeastern France, asked a local court to suspend the entry into force of the new swimming pool rules on June 1. The court issued a ruling on Wednesday, saying it “seriously breached the principle of neutrality in public service.”

Explained The fight between the French government and the city of Grenoble over burkinis

Half bikini, half covering burqa, the burqini swimsuit has once again sparked controversy in France. Representative image/AFP

Which burkinis are prohibited in France?

The laws in France are built on a strict separation of religion and state, intended to promote the equality of all private beliefs. This requires the state to be neutral in matters of religion. Even state officials are not allowed to wear religious symbols to work.

Opposition to the burkini dates back to 2016 when several municipalities banned it from beaches for violating the law separating religion and state. It was then judged that the anti-Burkini decrees constituted “a serious and manifestly illegal attack on fundamental freedoms”, including the right to move in public and freedom of conscience.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has condemned the burkini as “clothing for Islamist propaganda”.

However, the mayor of Grenoble argues that laws should not prevent them from dressing as they wish when using public services such as swimming pools.

What future for the city?

The fight has now reached the Council of State, the country’s highest court which has previously ruled against a burkini ban elsewhere in France.

It was then a ban pronounced in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet on the Mediterranean coast. The ban “seriously and clearly unlawfully violated fundamental freedoms”, the court had said in August 2016.

The ban was brought to the attention of the court by a human rights group, the Human Rights League and an anti-Islamophobia association CCIF.

The judgment in the case of Grenoble must be rendered in the coming days.

With contributions from agencies

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