Researching the Right to Wear Religious Garb in Public Schools in Europe:
The Muslim Headscarf Issue: Religion and International Human Rights Law and Policy

by Lyonette Louis-Jacques
July 8, 2004

The Issue

A recent issue of Foreign Policy had a 2-page article that caught my attention: Merve Kavakci, "Headscarf Heresy" (May/June 2004).

The author was an elected member of the Turkish Parliament who lost her seat and her Turkish citizenship within days of wearing her Islamic headscarf or hijab to work. In Turkey, headscarves are banned in public offices. She mentions in her article that, in February, France approved a ban on headscarves and other religious symbols from public schools, and that Germany and Belgium were considering similar bans. This seemed to me to be a developing religious human rights issue. How to find out more about it?

News Sources

A search of LexisNexis Academic Universe for "headscarf" indicated that the Muslim headscarf has been a hot news item. You can search news categories such as "World News", "Legal News" and "Non-English-Language News" (in major sources such as Le Monde). You can use news sources to find out more information about general developments in other countries and "Legal News" will often include references to cases, legislation, and relevant human rights instruments. For instance, there is this relevant article that you can find via "Legal News" which references the proposed French ban and provides an overview of the right to wear religious garb in public schools in the United States: Debbie Kaminer, "Religious Expression in the Workplace," New York Law Journal, February 19, 2004, at 4 (v.231). Other news sources include ProQuest, EBSCOhost, Factiva (strong for foreign and business-related news), Yahoo!, and Google news ( General Google web searches can also lead to alternative news sources (human rights groups, religious organizations, government press releases, briefings, background, opinion pieces, special reports, etc.)( See for example: "Euro court backs ban on Muslim headscarf" (The Muslim News, June 30, 2004.

Specialized Agencies and Organizations

For additional news, reports, and current background information, also check the websites of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (Memorandum to the Turkish Government on Human Rights Watch's Concerns with Regard to Academic Freedom in Higher Education, and Access to Higher Education for Women Who Wear the Headscarf), and organizations and government agencies particularly concerned with religious human rights issues. The U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, for example, includes sections on freedom of religion. The State Department also publishes the International Religious Freedom Report.

See also the Council of Europe's European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' "Issues" pages (OHCHR), Open Society Institute's EUMAP (reports on the situation of Muslims in France, Italy, the UK -, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) or Helsinki Commission (see Religious Liberty: The Legal Framework in Selected OSCE Countries), the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe's "Freedom of Religion or Belief" page, and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

Women's rights organizations are also resources (see e.g. Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and the Muslim Women's League (includes articles on religious persecution of Muslims in Europe and "Muslim Dress in Dangerous Times"). You can identify relevant other organizations by using specialized research guides such as Marci Hoffman, "Researching Religious Freedom Issues", Women's Human Rights Resources' "Religion and Culture" page, and the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library's "Study Guide: Freedom of Religious Belief".

Benoit Tabaka's "Le port d'un signe religieux (the wearing of a religious symbol) is a particularly useful compilation of French-language resources. He includes links to jurisprudence (of the Conseil d'État and several administrative tribunals), analyses, documents, and works on the topic, with a focus on the wearing of religious garb in public schools in France. Besides this special dossier or file, Mr. Tabaka's site links to general civil and constitutional rights resources.

Journal Articles

For hot topics in human rights, besides news stories, you can also look for journal articles. LexisNexis Academic Universe has a "Legal Research" section that you will find useful. Under "Law Reviews", you will find full texts of law journal articles published in the past 20 years. You will also find another link to "Legal News", links to U.S. statutes and cases, International Legal Materials (source of treaties, UN resolutions, and other key international documents), and to statutes and/or cases for the following countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, England, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa.

A search for "headscarf" in "Law Reviews" yields nine law journal articles that have been published in the past six months, including these two that look promising: Elisa T. Beller, "The Headscarf Affair: The Conseil d'État on the Role of Religion and Culture in French Society", 39 Texas International Law Journal 581 (Summer 2004)(recent enough to cover the new February 2004 French law!); Edward J. Eberle, "Free Exercise of Religion in Germany and the United States", 78 Tulane Law Review 1023 (March 2004).

Law journal articles will give you background information about a topic and citations (references) to related books, other journal articles, domestic constitutional provisions, legislation, and case-law, foreign government documents, treaties, international human rights instruments, etc. They are great starting points.

Other e-journal databases include Hein-On-Line, JSTOR, and EBSCOhost. Both Hein-On-Line and JSTOR include full runs of journals back to their very first volume (some starting in the 1800s). For example, you can find the full text of the following article in Hein-On-Line: "Religious Garb in the Public Schools: A Study in Conflicting Liberties", 22 University of Chicago Law Review 888 (1955). Hein-On-Line also includes the full texts of U.S. treaties. JSTOR covers disciplines other than law, such as history, philosophy, and political science. Look particularly for the Human Rights Quarterly in these two databases.

The Human Rights Quarterly is a major interdisciplinary human rights journal. It is available in full text via the Project Muse database. An "Advanced Search" in Project Muse for "headscarf" limited to the Human Rights Quarterly yields a few articles, but "hijab" yields about 30 related articles covering different disciplinary aspects of the issue. Note that law and non-law journal indexes such as LegalTrac, Index to Legal Periodicals, Web of Science/Knowledge, The International Bibliography of Periodical Literature (IBZ)(good coverage of European periodicals), FRANCIS (Humanities and Social Sciences), ATLAReligion, and PAIS International are also worth checking on the Muslim headscarf issue. Links to all these resources are available via: and


News sources and journal articles will sometimes reference key books on a human rights topic. To find other books on the same topic, you can use the Library Catalog and WorldCat. If you search in these catalogs for the books you found referenced in your current literature search, you can use the subject headings these books have to find similar books. You can also perform keyword/anywhere searches in these catalogs to identify relevant books, government documents, reports, studies, etc. Selected subject headings that look useful for finding books on religious human rights in Europe, with a special focus on the banning of Islamic headscarves in public schools, include: FREEDOM OF RELIGION -- EUROPE; HUMAN RIGHTS -- RELIGIOUS ASPECTS; HUMAN RIGHTS -- RELIGIOUS ASPECTS -- ISLAM; RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS; ISLAM AND POLITICS -- EUROPE; MUSLIMS -- EUROPE; EUROPE -- ETHNIC RELATIONS; MINORITIES -- LEGAL STATUS, ETC.; CIVIL RIGHTS -- EUROPE; EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS; EUROPEAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS; CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS (1950). "Europe" can be replaced with "France", "Germany" and other individual countries. These books look like they would be particularly helpful: Carolyn Evans, Freedom of Religion Under the European Convention on Human Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) and Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective (John Witte, Jr. & Johan D. van der Vyver eds., Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1996). Sources for finding books are listed at:

European Law

Armed with all this background information, you can now go directly to the primary sources of information (or you could reverse the step and seek the national laws and cases first). Many European countries publish their laws on the Internet. For France, the portal to legal information is Legifrance. It includes links to the full texts of the French Constitution, French codes, regulations, jurisprudence/case-law, international treaties, and the official gazette of laws, the Journal officiel. Legifrance also includes legislative history or background documents related to proposed legislation under "Dossiers législatifs". The law related to headscarves in public schools is:

LOI n0 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics

Links to other databases of foreign law are available via LexisNexis Academic Universe (described above), (legal research guides for over 50 countries), New York University Law Library ("Foreign Databases - By Jurisdiction"), and the World Legal Information Institute or WorldLII.

For the European region, the most relevant treaty is the European Convention on Human Rights - Article 9 of which covers freedom of thought, conscience and religion. European Court of Human Rights or ECHR jurisprudence on Article 9 can be identified via the HUDOC database. A search of HUDOC for "headscarf" yields the Case of Leyla Sahin v. Turkey (Application no. 44774/98) decided on June 29, 2004 related to the ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in educational institutions.

The ECHR's case-law is also online in the law school versions of the LexisNexis and WESTLAW databases and printed in the European Human Rights Reports (KD5.E9085) and Reports of Judgments and Decisions (KD19.C8A30501) or Publications of the European Court of Human Rights, Series A, Judgments and Decisions (XXKJC5132.A52E88).


With these resources, it is possible to obtain current, up-to-date information about a human rights issue including related legal documents. These are just a few of the resources that could be used to research the issue of headscarf bans in public schools in European countries. For a broader view of the universe of human rights research resources available, I recommend reading the "Human Rights" chapter of the American Society of International Law's Electronic Resources Guide, the bibliographies at the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library website, United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library's "Human Rights Research Guide, and my "Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Bibliography and Research Guide".