French nun misses out on retirement home place over veil ban

November, 2019

A French nun was forced to turn down a place in a state retirement home because she was told she would have to stop wearing her religious habit and headscarf.

The case has reopened the row over secularism in France just weeks after a Muslim woman was asked to remove her headscarf while accompanying a school outing.

The nun, who is in her 70s and has spent her entire adult life in a convent, wanted to retire to Vesoul in eastern France, where she was born, and applied for a self-contained apartment with a communal eating room at a local authority-run care home.

She received a letter from the town hall telling her that she was on a waiting list for a place but because of France’s strict rules on secularism, she would have to remove her habit and headscarf.

France has a strict principle of laïcité - secularism - which means that religious clothing cannot be worn in government buildings.

As well as care homes, this includes local government offices and schools.

The people who have more usually fallen foul of this rule are Muslim women who wear the hijab, or headscarf, but the principle applies to all religious clothing.

In a recent case, a mum who was accompanying her son's class on a school trip was ordered to remove her headscarf.

The French state and church were officially separated by law in 1905 to give form to the concept of secularism rooted in the 1789 French Revolution.

In 2004, the government prohibited the wearing of conspicuous religions symbols in public schools and banned the hijab - a garment that covers a woman's hair but leaves her face exposed - from classrooms and government offices.

The country with Europe's largest Muslim population is also deeply divided over the body-concealing "burkini" swimsuit, with opposition to the garment forcing the closure of some swimming pools earlier this year in the midst of a heatwave.

Source: The Local