Tribune de Genève.
This question is causing a political storm in Geneva after a member of staff working for the city’s cultural department came to work wearing a veil covering her hair, something she had not worn when she was hired.
Geneva’s Administrative Council is currently looking at the question. Sami Kanaan, head of the city’s department of culture “temporarily” authorised the person involved to continue wearing the veil until Geneva’s Grand Council comes to a final decision.
The Grand Council is currently looking at an update to the body of law that governs the relationship between the city’s administration and religion. These laws embody a concept know as laïcité and were created at the end of the nineteenth century to avoid religious conflict.
In an interview with the Tribune de Genève last year, State councillor Pierre Maudet said the proposed changes were “more of an evolution than a revolution”. The law currently allows the state to restrict or ban the wearing of certain religious symbols when public order is threatened.
The amendments under discussion will set out rules for those working for the Canton or Communes regarding the display of their religious affiliation when in contact with the public.
The project to amend Geneva’s laïcité laws has not yet been voted on and Sami Kanaan said the “question remains open” until the Grand Council has cast its votes. Adding “We have never had to respond to this question. This is why we don’t have an answer. While waiting we are opting for tolerance.”
Some elected members of the municipality are not happy with Sami Kanaan’s stance. “Wait and do nothing is not a response” said Pierre Gauthier, a member of Left and also a member of the Free Thinkers Association in Geneva. UDC member Eric Bertinat said “The article on neutrality and secularity (laïcité) in the State of Geneva’s constitution is sufficient to settle the question. There is no reason why certain groups should be granted favours.”
For Stéphane Guex-Pierre, a member of the Left, this debate is essential “because we are confronted with an intrusion of factions and religion into the public domain.”
Other disagree. “For the moment this does not contravene any laws, so I have no problem with it” said Grégoire Carasso.
PLR State councillor Pierre Maudet’s response was clear: “This approach is irresponsible, shocking and attacks the secular principle of laïcité by creating a regrettable precedent. It opens the door to the creation of separate communities. I vigorously deplore this situation, which lacks a legal base and clearly contravenes the spirit of the constitution.”
The Tribune de Genève reported on Wednesday that the employee in question had decided to stop wearing her veil.
An employee wears a veil while interacting with the public (Tribune de Genève – in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
The Geneva city employee takes off her veil (Tribune de Genève – in French)