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French Court Overturns Burkini Ban

France’s highest administrative court overturned a so-called “burkini ban” in Villeneuve-Loubet, a small commune in the southeast. Twenty-five cities in France passed burkini bans — usually worded to outlaw any beachwear that appears “ostentatiously ... religious” — after several terrorist attacks around the country this year, including one in the coastal town of Nice.

The bans have been controversial since their inception. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls justified the bans by saying burqa-inspired swimwear represents “the enslavement of women.” But opponents argued they unfairly restricted women’s right to choose what to wear, and research suggests Muslim women in Europe who don burqas do so with a strong sense of agency.

According to surveys, some took to wearing face veils even when their Muslim parents objected. One young survey respondent seemed to consider face-veiling an act of rebellion, in response to laws aimed at reducing the appearance of religiosity among French Muslims. “Already, for [the Muslim holiday of] Eid they don’t allow us to slaughter our sheep, they don’t let us go to school with our headscarf, they don’t let us do anything,” a 24-year-old, burqa-wearing Paris resident told Open Society Foundations, a group that opposes burqa bans. “The minimum that I can do as a Muslim woman is to wear the niqab [a veil that covers the face and hair, leaving only the eyes visible], given that they are attacking this little bit of my religion.”

The French administrative court ruled burkini bans violated “fundamental liberties, such as the freedom to come and go, religious freedom and individual freedom.”