Cablegate: Hesse Passes Germany's Most Far-Reaching Headscarf

Published: Fri 22 Oct 2004 03:25 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Hesse Passes Germany's Most Far-Reaching Headscarf
REF: A) Frankfurt 567 B) Frankfurt 6441
C) Frankfurt 1390 D) 03 Frankfurt 8335
Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution
1. (U) SUMMARY: The Christian-Democratic Hesse state
government recently passed legislation banning all civil
servants from wearing headscarves while on duty, a measure
that goes far beyond approaches to the issue in other German
states. Opposition parties harshly criticized the law and
predicted it would be declared unconstitutional. Some
observers see the bill as a concession to the CDU's
conservative wing. A constitutional battle over the law
could have implications beyond Hesse state politics. END
2. (U) On October 8, the Hesse state parliament passed a
law barring headscarf use by public officials, the most far-
reaching headscarf ban in Germany to date. The CDU caucus
(which has an absolute majority) unanimously supported the
law, while opposition parties -- SPD (Social Democrats), the
Greens, and the FDP (Free Democrats) -- all opposed it.
Whereas laws recently passed in Baden-Wuerttemberg and other
states only apply to public-school teachers (refs B-D), the
Hesse ban applies to all civil servants in their official
capacities. CDU caucus leader Franz-Josef Jung justified
the law in terms of Germany's "Christian and humanistic
tradition" and the headscarf's negative symbolism ("We don't
hire civil servants for back offices, but rather to serve
the state," underscoring the public image concerns). Hesse
Education Minister Karin Wolff (CDU) claims the law protects
the separation of church and state ("[the headscarf) is a
symbol which rejects the separation of religion and politics
and the values of our state ... it's not just a matter of
gender equality, but also recognizing the constitution").
It is unclear how Hesse authorities will apply the
principles of the law to other religions, a point of
contention in legal action against the state of Baden-
Wuerttemberg by initial headscarf plaintiff Fereshta Ludin
(ref C).
3. (U) SPD and FDP representatives -- who supported a
limited ban on public-school teachers -- criticized the law
and predicted it would be declared unconstitutional. Hesse
FDP chair Ruth Wagner criticized the CDU's "arrogance" and
intransigence for not trying to build consensus on the issue
before putting it to a vote (NOTE: Baden-Wuerttemberg,
Saarland, and other states passed more limited headscarf
laws supported by broad legislative majorities. END NOTE).
"That this law will end up in court again is as sure as the
night is dark," Wagner said. SPD caucus chief Juergen
Walter accused the CDU of pandering to its "Steel-helmet
wing" ("Stahlhelmfluegel") of hard-line conservatives.
4. (SBU) COMMENT: The new headscarf ban is a political
firestorm that will lead to several (potentially successful)
court challenges. Furthermore, it highlights the contrast
in Hesse between an array of nationally-recognized programs
designed to integrate the state's large immigrant population
and a determination to preserve the "Christian and humanist"
tradition referenced by Jung. This dichotomy could lead to
further tensions down the road. END COMMENT.
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