French government threatens to block ban on burkinis in public swimming pools

French government threatens to block ban on burkinis in public swimming pools

The French government wants to challenge the decision to allow bathers to wear a full-body swimsuit in its pools.

Interior Minister G rald Darmanin said that the move was an unacceptable provocation that was against the values of the secular republic and that he would try to block it.

The decision to loosen the rules of swimwear to allow people to dress how they like at outdoor municipal pools, including wearing burkinis or swimming topless, has reopened the contentious debate over the place of religious symbols and clothing in France just weeks after a legislative election.

Critics see the body covering garment as a symbol of creeping Islamism and an attack on France's secular tradition, while some feminists would want a complete ban on it, seeing it as a symbol of female oppression.

It has been banned from being used in public pools for reasons of hygiene, along with baggy swim shorts and T-shirts. The rules require female bathers to wear tight-fitting trunks.

The decision to allow the burkini provoked an angry response from opponents. A police investigation has been launched into the organisation behind the move, and the regional authority has immediately suspended public funding to the town.

Laurent Wauquiez of the centre-right Les R publicains party and president of the Auvergne-Rh ne-Alpes regional authority said Grenoble had broken with secularism and the values of our republic and engaged in a form of separatism. He had accused the local mayor, the Ecology-Green representative ric Piolle, of doing deals with political Islam to buy votes and won the swimwear vote with a slim 29 votes to 27, with 2 abstainings after Piolle was delighted to be attacked by Darmanin and said the decision was a feminist one. All we want women and men to be able to dress how they wish, Piolle told RMC radio afterwards.

In 2019 Rennes in north-west France loosened its dress code to allow full-body swimsuit and other types of swimwear, despite the fact that Grenoble is not the first to allow bathers to wear burkinis in municipal pools.

In 2016, attempts by several mayors to ban burkini from beaches in the Mediterranean caused a national row and were eventually ruled to be discriminatory. France's 1905 law on la cit, which roughly translates as secularism, allows the wearing of religious symbols in public places, including swimming pools, as long as they do not affect hygiene and safety.

Muslim female footballers in France are currently involved in a legal battle to overturn French Football Federation rules that prevent them from wearing the hijab. The FFF bans ostentations religious symbols, including the Jewish kippa, for competition matches.

On Tuesday, the Grenoble public prosecutor opened an investigation into Alliance Citoyenne, the organisation that campaigned for the burkini after allegations that it had illegally collected and kept personal information on people's ethnic origins as well as their political and religious beliefs. The collection of such information is strictly prohibited in France.

The local prefect, the state representative, is going to contest the decision to change the pool dress rules in the administrative court, claiming it is in violation of both the 1905 law and legislation passed last August to combat religious separatism.