• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Berlin borough town hall OKs Muslim headscarf

DPA/The Local · 10 Jun 2015, 15:06

Published: 10 Jun 2015 15:06 GMT+02:00

Betül Ulusoy has been through a rollercoaster ten days. After being accepted for a traineeship with her local state authority, she was told they were reconsidering their decision and then finally told on Tuesday that she could indeed take up the place.

At the centre of the decision was the fact that as a devout Muslim she wears a headscarf.

The 26-year-old had applied for a position as a junior lawyer with the borough authorities. Last Monday the town hall told her that her application had been successful.

But when she arrived at the town hall the following day to sign her contract, her soon-to-be employers saw her headscarf and promptly announced they would have to review their decision.

The case stirred an intense media debate, as Germany searched its soul on the various issues Ulusoy’s case touches on - Islamophobia, freedom of expression and the separation between church and state.

The case has been particularly magnified because it took place in Neukölln, Berlin’s so-called ‘problem borough,’ a district where roughly every third inhabitant is of an immigrant background.

Neukölln has become a touchstone for debates about integration and religious freedom.

Neutrality law

While this might at first glance appear to be a case of Islamophobia in the workplace, the case is more complex.

In Berlin the Neutralitätsgesetz, or neutrality law, states that anyone who works for the city authorities can show no outward sign of religiosity. That means no cross, no kippa, no headscarf.

But the same law also states that nobody can be discriminated against based upon their religious beliefs.

Ulusoy herself makes no attempt to deny that the headscarf she wears is an expression of her religion.

Speaking to Die Welt, she said that the headscarf brought her closer to God and was a sign that inner values are more important than what one sees on the outside.

But she said that wearing the headscarf forms part of her freedom of expression and that she herself saw it as a form of emancipation.

“The law states clearly that I am not to be discriminated against,” she said. “I am in my period of training and a ban [on wearing a headscarf] means in essence a ban from working.”

Constitutional conundrum

The debate about where women are allowed to wear headscarves is nothing new. Indeed in March the constitutional court - Germany’s highest chamber - declared that it was unconstitutional to completely ban headscarves in the work place.

While that ruling related to schools in Baden-Württemberg, it set a precedent for the whole of Germany.

Speaking to RBB on Monday, Die Linke (the left party) spokesman Hakan Tas said that the Neukölln authorities would be contravening this ruling by rejecting Ulusoy’s application.

“Nobody can be shut out,” he said.

But not everyone agreed.

Robbin Juhnke, a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) borough council member told RBB “the neutrality law is clearly the higher law. She can wear her headscarf in the privacy of her own home."

An exception for traineeships

Finally on Tuesday the town hall came to a decision.

Neukölln’s mayor, Franziska Giffey of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), announced that “If Ms Ulusoy so wishes, she can begin to work here on July 30.”

Ulusoy will now become the first person who wears a headscarf on religious grounds to take up a position with the Neukölln administration.

But the exception that has been made for her does not necessarily have wider implications.

The neutrality law itself contains exceptions for traineeships. But it is clear that any state employee who interacts with the public as a representative of the city must do so without displaying any signs of religiosity.

It is therefore not certain whether Ulusoy would later be given a full-time position with the borough administration.

“The state needs to remain neutral,” Die Welt reported Giffey as saying. “And when civil servants carry out official tasks they are prohibited from wearing religious symbols.”

Whether the constitutional court will rule that the Neutralitätsgesetz is in contravention of constitutional rights will have to wait until another day.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Today's headlines
President who pioneered Moscow ties dies aged 97
Former Cold War President of West Germany Walter Scheel. Photo: DPA.

Former West German president Walter Scheel, who helped pave the way for his country's rapprochement with the communist East, has died aged 97, his party's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Former East to lag behind West for years to come: study
Poverty in eastern Germany. File photo: DPA

Eastern Germany remains economically anaemic with little prospect of catching up with the rest of the country by 2030, a study published on Wednesday said.

Turkey's spy network in Germany 'thicker than Stasi's'
Photo: DPA.

Turkey has around 6,000 informants working in Germany, which experts say means they're each monitoring more people than the Stasi did in West Germany during the Cold War.

Germany's first 'intelligent' bridge to open in Nuremberg
File photo: DPA

An €11 million bridge, which is nearing completion in northern Bavaria, is set to include technology never seen before on the German Autobahn.

Stockpile food in case of attack, Germany tells citizens
Photo: DPA

Germany on Wednesday urged its population to stockpile food and water in case of terrorist or cyber attacks, as it adopted its first civil defence strategy since the end of the Cold War.

Ten injured after freight train crashes into bus in Osnabrück
The crash site in Osnabrück. Photo: DPA

A freight train crashed into a bus in Osnabrück on Wednesday morning, leaving several people badly injured, local media report.

Man wins ten-year court battle over €2.50 surcharge
Photo: DPA

An Austrian man has won a ten year court battle over an extra €2.50 he was asked to pay to get into a swimming pool in Bavaria a decade ago.

In Pictures
Düsseldorf swoons as Prince William comes for royal visit
'Well hello Mr. Prince'. Photo: DPA.

Prince William paid a visit to the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf on Wednesday to celebrate the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's 70th birthday. Here's a look at his royal stay.

Brexit
Frankfurt attempts to charm banks away from London
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: DPA

Germany's finance capital has spotted an opportunity with the Brexit-wary banking beasts of the Square Mile.

How did this bike end up on top of Berlin’s Molecule Man?
A professional climber 'rescuing' the bike hanging from the Molecule Man. Photo: DPA.

Berliners are still scratching their heads over how a bicycle ended up dangling from the capital’s iconic statue.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,647
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd