A judge removed Tuğba Arslan, a member of the Ankara Bar Association, from a hearing because Arslan was wearing a headscarf while representing a party. The judge postponed the hearing and ordered alternate counsel in Arslan’s place. Turkish Bar Association rules prohibit attorneys from wearing headscarves during hearings. Arslan appealed to the Constitutional Court, claiming that because no legislation prohibited headscarves during hearings, her rights to freedom of religion and equal treatment had been violated. The Court agreed, holding that women may wear headscarves in accordance with Islam and the practice is common in Islamic society; therefore, the Arslan’s religious right was violated. Further, the Court stated that some limitations could be placed on rights but that such limitations, among other requirements, must be prescribed by law. Moreover, the Court reasoned that Arslan’s removal violated the non-discrimination principle, since on the one hand, women attorneys who do not wear headscarves are permitted to attend hearings while Arslan, on the other hand, is not.
Women and Justice: Keywords
Gender discrimination. The Muslim applicant, aged eleven at the material time, was enrolled in the first year of a state secondary school and wore a headscarf to school. On seven occasions in January 1999 the applicant went to physical education and sports classes wearing her headscarf and refused to take it off despite repeated requests to do so by her teacher, who explained that wearing a headscarf was incompatible with physical education classes. At a meeting on 11 February 1999 the school's pupil discipline committee decided to expel the applicant from the school for breaching the duty of assiduity by failing to participate actively in physical education and sports classes. The applicant's parents appealed against that decision to the appeal panel. The applicant claimed that expelling her for wearing the headscarf had amounted to an interference with her religious freedom under Article 9 of the Convention. The court however held that her rights were not infringed, following the Turkish case of Leyla Sahin (Leyla Sahin v. Turkey ([GC], no. 44774/98, ECHR 2005-XI) whereby it was found that secularism, as upheld by the French Government in that case, was of fundamental constitutional value in terms of the importance of the protection of women's rights. It was held that secularism was undoubtedly one of the fundamental principles of the State which was in harmony with the rule of law and respect for human rights and democracy. The court thus noted that secularism was the guarantor of democratic values, ensuring that all citizens are treated equally. The court confirmed that the freedom to manifest one's religion could be restricted in order to defend such values. It concluded that this notion of secularism was consistent with the values underpinning the Convention.