The decision came as German conservatives try to win back voters from the anti-immigration AfD party.
Germany’s southeastern state of Bavaria announced late on Tuesday that it had approved a ban on face veils in certain public spaces. Women wearing a niqab or burqa are hindering communication and public safety, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said following a cabinet meeting.
“A communicative exchange takes place not only through speech, but also through looks, expressions and gestures,” Hermann told the press. “It forms the foundation of our interpersonal relationships and is the basis of our society and free and democratic order.”
According to the new draft legislation, a full-face veil is to be prohibited “in the fields of civil service, universities, schools, kindergartens, in the fields of public general safety and order, and at elections.”
Bavaria is governed by the right-leaning conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the smaller sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). The CSU has an absolute majority in Bavaria’s state parliament, which Herrmann said is expected to pass the law by the summer break.
The move is a timely one. As Germany prepares for federal elections in September, there are fears of losing votes to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and worries that Merkel has moved her party so far to the center that it is not longer recognizable.
The chancellor expressed her support for such a ban in December, saying it should be implemented “wherever legally possible.” As the front line of the influx of more than a million often Muslim refugees and migrants into Germany over the past two years, Bavaria has also had to deal with increasing concerns about domestic security and the integration of migrants into mainstream culture.
However, many have criticized the move not only as contrary to religious freedom but also a distracting non-issue being exploited for political purposes.
The German government does not have official statistics on how many women wear a full-face veil. Multiple German media reports have estimated that fewer than 300 women wear a niqab regularly, and that extremely few, if any, wore a burqa.
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