The Austrian parliament has approved a law banning girls in primary schools from wearing the hijab.
The bill which was passed on Wednesday is likely to be challenged as discriminatory in Austria’s Constitutional Court.
The law received support from the governing coalition of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz‘s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), whilst almost all of the opposition voted against it.
The policy does not specifically mention Muslim women or girls, but bans the wearing of “ideologically or religiously characterised clothing” covering the head, and specifically refers to items “that cover the whole or large parts of the hair”.
The government said the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish kippah would not be affected as they only partially cover the hair.
Austria’s last government had previously banned the niqab in courts, schools and other public places.
Judges, magistrates, police officers and public prosecutors are already banned from wearing the hijab.
Exceptions will be made for head coverings for medical reasons or for protection against snow or rain.
Rudolf Taschner of the ÖVP’ said the law was designed to “free girls from submission”, and the FPÖ’s education spokesman Wendelin Mölzer said the bill was made to send a message “against political Islam” and to promote integration.
Austria’s official Muslim community organisation the IGGOe described the legislation as a “destructive” law and previously condemned the proposal for a ban as “shameless” and a “diversionary tactic”.
The IGGOe said in any case, very few Muslim girls will be affected.