STRASBOURG, France (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld France's controversial burqa ban, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breaches religious freedom.
In a case brought by a 24-year-old French woman with the support of a British legal team, the court ruled that France was justified in introducing the ban in the interests of social cohesion.
"The Court emphasised that respect for the conditions of 'living together' was a legitimate aim for the measure at issue," a statement from the court said.
The court also emphasised that states should be allowed a degree of discretion - "a wide margin of appreciation" - on a policy issue which is subject to significant differents of opinion.
Two of the 17 judges who spent several months deliberating on the case dissented from the majority view that the ban did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights' provisions protecting the freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The judges agreed unanimously that the woman had not been a victim of discrimination. She had not been prosecuted under the law, which has resulted in only a handful of arrests since it was introduced in 2010.
The university graduate, who has family in Birmingham, England, had requested anonymity for fear of reprisals in France over her action. She had argued that being obliged to take off her veil in public was degrading.
In written evidence, she had testified that she wore the full veil of her own free will and was willing to remove it whenever required for security reasons - addressing the two main arguments put forward by French authorities in support of the ban.
Under the ban, women wearing full-face veils in public spaces can be fined up to 150 euros (S$255).
Belgium and some parts of Switzerland have followed France's lead and similar bans are being considered in Italy and The Netherlands.