World on Trial French Headscarf Law

Penn State’s Center for Global Studies offered a workshop based on the pilot episode of the “World on Trial” on November 9, 2013. This workshop was simulcast to the University of Pittsburgh.

The pilot episode of “World on Trial” (displayed below) deals with the 2004 French law banning the conspicuous display of religious symbols in public schools, most notably affecting the right of young Muslim women to wear traditional head scarves or other forms of cover. Workshop participants will watch the episode and hear from experts on the history of law, the significance of the law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the curriculum and supplementary materials designed for use with the televised program. “World on Trial” is a public television and Web-based interactive series produced by Penn State University Dickinson School of Law, the School of International Affairs and WPSU.

Detailed information about the workshop is available in the session’s program.

This lesson plan is intended for use in conjunction with the “World on Trial: Headscarf Law” episode. Students will research the practice of covering and the motivation for the ban. They will then view a trial-format debate between experts in the “World on Trial” episode. Finally, they will analyze the arguments presented by both sides and register their own opinion in the ongoing debate. More info can also be found at World on Trial website.

List of presentations

Ce que nous voile le voile/ Unveiling the veil

Sandra Rousseau

In 2004 and 2011, laws were passed in France that banned the wearing of “ostentatious” religious signs in both schools and public spaces. These two laws have been widely debated in French and international media and have been discussed in terms relative to justice, equality and ethics. Yet it seems that the historical underpinnings for these laws have been eclipsed or merged with a contemporary reading of the world that does not consider the specificity of the French Republican Tradition which emerged around the time of the French Revolution (1789). Rousseau will try to make connections between the French idea of separation of church and State and the passing of the 2004 and 2011 laws and will then address the cultural impact of the Muslim community in France, focusing on the history of North-African immigration and the renewed outbreaks of racism and discriminations from the 1980s onward.

  • Session presentation – PPT PDF

Understanding of the Islamic Veil (Hijab)

Melek H. Yazici

This session explains the Islamic perspective governing the headscarf based on the Quran and the hadith, two primary sources of Islamic law. The origin of the veil and different types of headscarf found in the Muslim world today will be discussed. The session further examines the significance of veil for Muslim women, and why these women see the headscarf ban as a form of oppression with references to real stories.

French Headscarf Law:  Policy and Law

Courtney J. Restemayer

This session explains the policies and principles of the French “headscarf ban” law, summarize the significance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) affiliation, and discuss the human rights implications of the law.

  • Session presentation – PPT PDF

Bringing the Debate to the Classroom

Dustin Lee Yenser

Yenser presents the curriculum and supplementary materials he developed along with the research methods used to create it. Students following his method will research the practice of covering and the motivation for the ban, view the trial-format debate between experts, analyze the arguments presented by both sides, and register their own opinion in the ongoing debate.


Additional Resources

A comprehensive list of resources is available at the World on Trial website. Click on Research for the academic offerings.