The Loaded Swimsuit

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France’s top administrative court ruled against the wearing of full-body swimwear, including the burkini, in public pools this week, amid an intense national debate about the country’s principle of secularism and the respect for fundamental rights, Reuters reported.

The case began when the city of Grenoble voted in favor of allowing the use of burkinis in public pools in May. The full-body swimwear – which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed – is often worn by Muslim women who wish to preserve their modesty in accordance with their beliefs.

But the move sparked outrage from conservative and far-right politicians, who said the swimwear would undermine France’s principle of secularism.

The French government challenged Grenoble’s move and a lower administrative court suspended the measure. The recent verdict by the Conseil d’Etat upheld the lower court’s order: It said the new rule affects “the proper functioning of the public service, and undermines the equal treatment of users so that the neutrality of public service is compromised.”

The municipality, however, said that it regrets the top court’s decision, adding that the goal of the new rule was to guarantee equal treatment for all users.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the decision a win for “secularism and above all for the Republic.” Still, Muslim rights advocates cautioned that bans on burkinis restrict fundamental liberties and discriminate against Muslim women.

The burkini debate has been heating up in France since 2016 when a city in the south tried to ban the swimwear from public beaches. But the Conseil d’Etat overturned the ban, saying it infringed fundamental freedoms.

Although there is no countrywide restriction, burkinis are restricted at many public pools around the country.

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