Belgian school religious symbol ban ‘does not breach child rights’

European Court of Human Rights. By CherryX - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A European court has ruled that a Belgian regional ban on religious symbols in schools does not breach children’s rights.

In an action brought by former pupils who were forbidden from wearing the Islamic headscarf, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) heard that the case was brought on grounds of freedom of religion.

The three young Muslim women attended schools run by the Flemish Community, one of the country’s federal region, and which since 2009 has had a ban on the wearing of outward signs of religious affiliation in its educational system.

The parents of the plaintiffs had unsuccessfully appealed for Belgium to declare the ban illegal, before the women took the case to the court in November 2020.

‘Grounds of freedom of religion’

In the case, Mikyas and Others v. Belgium, the three young Muslim women, who are now in their 20s and attended schools run by the Flemish Community, argued to the European Court of Human Rights that the measure infringed several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court, however, ruled that ‘prohibiting, in general, the wearing by pupils of visible symbols of belief, did not in itself run counter to Article 9 of the convention’, which guarantees religious freedom, it wrote in a summary of the judgement.

It said the ban aimed at “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and of public order.”

A full summary of the ruling will shortly be available here on the ECHR website.

Author: Simon Weedy

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