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RELIGION

France’s top court blocks wearing of ‘burkini’ in Grenoble swimming pools

The French city of Grenoble cannot go ahead with plans to allow the "burkini" full-body swimming costume at its municipal pools, the country's top administrative court ruled on Tuesday.

France's top court blocks wearing of 'burkini' in Grenoble swimming pools
The full-body 'burkini' swimsuit. Photo by MOHD RASFAN / AFP

Upholding a challenge by the national government against the move, which renewed France’s intense debate on Islam, the Council of State said that “very selective exception to the rules to satisfy religious demands… risks affecting the proper functioning of public services and equal treatment of their users”.

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

Led by Green party mayor Eric Piolle, the city of Grenoble in May changed its swimming pool rules to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men, which were mandated before. Women were also permitted to swim topless.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle said at the time.

Tuesday’s court decision – which concerned only the burkini and not the topless ruling or the rules on men’s swim shorts –  was “a victory for the law against separatism, for secularism and beyond that, for the whole republic,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, referring to a law introduced last year to counter Islamist radicalism.

READ ALSO Why is France’s interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Burkinis are banned in French state-run pools for hygiene reasons — not on religious grounds — while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.

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POLITICS

French Mediterranean resort’s far-right mayor bans burkinis

The far-right mayor of a resort on the Mediterranean coast of France has banned Muslim women from wearing burkinis in any of the town's swimming pools or beaches - despite previous court rulings saying that this is illegal.

French Mediterranean resort's far-right mayor bans burkinis

Three days after the southeastern city of Grenoble voted to allow swimmers to wear the full-cover swimsuit, the mayor of Fréjus – a member of Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National party – announced that he had decided to outlaw it.

“I learned with amazement of the authorisation given by the mayor of Grenoble to authorise the burkini in the swimming pools of its commune,” David Rachline wrote in a press release. 

READ ALSO OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

In fact, Grenoble updated its rules for municipal swimming pools to allow all bathers to wear any swimsuit – including burkinis – that protected them from the sun. It also permits women to swim topless if they wish and men to wear swim shorts instead of Speedos.

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move – including France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who ordered the local Préfet to review the decision, and later announced that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

READ ALSO French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

Rachline has pre-empted any decision from the government by acting unilaterally, trotting out the familiar refrain from the right that the decision in Grenoble goes against the “fundamental republican principle of secularism”.

“The express authorisation of the burkini is neither more nor less than an electoral provocation with a communitarian spring, implemented by the radical left,” he said.

“I see a culpable complacency with radical Islamism, for electoral purposes and in defiance of national cohesion.

“In order for things to be clearly stated, I have decided, as mayor of Fréjus, guarantor of public hygiene and safety, to modify the corresponding decrees to explicitly specify the ban on the burkini.”

His ban extends to both the town’s municipal swimming pools and its beaches, and he’s not the first southern mayor to attempt to ban burkinis on beaches.

In 2016, Cannes mayor David Lisnard issued an anti-burkini order on the beaches of his town.

The decision, which had also been taken in municipalities such as Villeneuve-Loubet (Alpes-Maritimes), was overturned after an opinion from the Conseil d’Etat, one of France’s highest legal authorities. 

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