REUTERS - Belgium’s lower house of parliament voted on Thursday in favour of banning the wearing of the Islamic veil in public.
Here is a summary of policies in some countries on veils and other religious symbols:
* BELGIUM: Belgium’s lower house voted in favour of banning the full veil, a move that, if ratified by the Senate, could make it the first country to rule it a criminal offence.
* FRANCE: France is moving towards a ban on veils in public, with the government set to examine a draft bill next month amid heated debate over women’s rights and religious freedom.
— President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out in favour for a complete ban on April 21, and the relevant bill will be presented to the cabinet in May.
— Almost 10 percent of France’s 62 million population is Muslim. It banned headscarves from state primary and secondary schools in 2004 under a law against conspicuous religious symbols that also included Jewish kippas and large Christian crosses.
— Women at university can wear headscarves, since they are adults. Teachers and other civil servants may not wear any religious symbols at work.
* GERMANY: Policy is a matter for individual states, not the federal government.
— Seven of Germany’s 16 states have banned teachers in state schools from wearing Islamic headscarves, angering Muslim groups who say it discriminates against them.
— The majority of Germany’s roughly 3.2 million Muslims are of Turkish origin.
* ITALY - Italy has not passed any national legislation but some towns have been trying to ban burqas with local decrees.
— A 1975 law punishes with fines and up to two years in jail those who cover their face with anything that prevents their identification by police.
* NETHERLANDS: The Dutch government is set to retreat from a plan for a general ban on Muslim veils, but stop women wearing them in schools and government offices.
— The cabinet has decided against a broad ban on the burqa, a complete head-to-toe covering, or the niqab, which leaves the eyes uncovered, in public as that would violate the principle of freedom of religion.
— The Muslim community says very few women wear the burqa or the niqab. They said a general ban would heighten alienation among the country’s 1 million Muslims.
* TURKEY: Mainly Muslim but constitutionally secular Turkey has banned Islamic headdress in universities and public offices. But parliament on Feb. 9 resoundingly approved constitutional changes aimed at lifting a ban on female students wearing the headscarf in universities. President Abdullah Gul approved the reform.
Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Additional writing and editing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit