International and Comparative Law Quarterly

Shorter Articles, Comments, and Notes

What not to Wear: Religious Rights, the European Court, and the Margin of Appreciation

Tom Lewis*

The issue of religious dress, specifically female Muslim religious dress, has been the subject of intense controversy within Europe over recent years. In the United Kingdom comments by Jack Straw MP, Leader of the House of Commons and a former Home and Foreign Secretary, that he felt uncomfortable talking to women at his constituency surgery who wore the Muslim veil sparked a storm of intense and, at times, acrimonious debate.1 In France the banning of headscarves in State schools has provoked major controversy.2 In the Netherlands the Dutch Parliament voted to ban the burka in public places3 and in five Belgian towns its wearing has been banned on pain of a fine.4


* Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University. I am grateful to Peter Cumper, Catherine Lewis, Adrian Walters and an anonymous referee for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Errors and omissions remain my own.