• Germany's news in English

Berlin borough town hall OKs Muslim headscarf

DPA/The Local · 10 Jun 2015, 15:06

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Parents who don't get nursery spot for kid entitled to pay
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents whose children don't receive placements in nursery care are entitled to compensation.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd