The State Council ruled that local authorities could only restrict individual liberties if there was a “proven risk” to public order.
The decision followed arguments from the Human Rights League and an anti-Islamophobia group seeking to reverse the decision by the southern town of Villeneuve-Loubet to ban the Islamic swimsuit.
Villeneuve-Loubet is located between Nice and Cannes. Google Maps.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) hailed the ruling as “a victory for common sense”.
The suspension of the ban, which is now pending a definitive ruling, follows two weeks of intense debate in France and internationally about whether the swimwear should have been banned in the first place.
The ruling is likely to set a precedent for around 30 French towns which have banned the burqini, mostly along the sun-drenched southeast coast.
Amnesty International welcomed the ruling.
“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fuelled by and is fuelling prejudice and intolerance, today's decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” Amnesty's Europe director John Dalhuisen said.
“French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women,” he said.
“It's very good news that our highest court is resisting political and public pressure,” French sociologist and expert on Islam Professor Raphaël Liogier told The Local after the ruling.
“It was impossible in France, according to our legal system, to prevent people from dressing the way they want to dress. The shore of a beach is just like a street, it's a public space, meaning you can't change the rules unless there is a threat to public order.”
Following the result of the case, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced a “day of consultation on the theme of French Islam”, to take place on Monday, August 29th. The day is set to include an interview with members of the CFCM as well as other speakers.
Another expert, sociologist and filmmaker Agnès De Féo who has explored the subject of the burqa for over a decade, said that the ban has already left some Muslim women in fear.
“What happens when you're scared of the future? This is a country that takes pride in its human rights record and yet it is stigmatizing some of its own population,” she told The Local on Friday
A 31-year-old Muslim woman in southern France was pleased to hear of the ban, but said that it wasn't enough to reassure her for her safety in France.
“This is good news that they've suspended the ban, but it's just a question of time before they find something else to ban,” she told The Local.
“What scares me is how normal racism is now. Whatever they do against Muslim people and especially against Muslim women has just become normal.”
“They are claiming they are making Muslim women free by banning us from school, from work, from public places, from swimming pools and from the beach – this is how they supposedly make us free. What kind of liberty is that?”
Not everyone was pleased with the court result. The former mayor of Nice and current President of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Christian Estrosi, who had earlier defended police for handing out fines, took to Twitter to seemingly defend the ban.
He said: “We must provide a response to these communalist provocations. I reaffirm that it's up to the State to legislate.” He went on to say he had written to prime minister Manuel Valls to demand that the State take responsibility in “fighting communalism”.
The burqini bans have triggered a fierce debate about the wearing of the full-body swimsuit, women's rights and the French state's strictly guarded secularism. Photographs in the British media showed police surrounding a woman in a headscarf on a Nice beach as she removed a long-sleeved top.
The office of Nice's mayor denied that the woman had been forced to remove clothing, telling AFP she was showing police the swimsuit she was wearing under her top, over a pair of leggings, when the picture was taken.
The police fined her and she left the beach, the officials added.
The administrative court in Nice had ruled on Monday that the Villeneuve-Loubet ban was “necessary” to prevent public disorder after the truck attack in Nice and the murder of a Catholic priest by two jihadists in northern France.