Imposed in the name of secularism, perhaps France’s most sacred ideal, the highly controversial burkini bans — currently affecting 25 French towns and cities besides Villeneuve-Loubet, which the court primarily addressed — prohibit Muslim women from wearing full-bodied bathing suits designed to respect traditional codes of modesty on the beach.
But in its Friday ruling, the administrative court concluded that the idea of a burkini ban insulted “fundamental freedoms” such as the “freedom to come and go, the freedom of conscience and personal liberty.” In recent weeks, a network of local mayors and officials across France passed similar bans on the Australian-born bathing suit, casting the burkini as the latest iteration of the burqa, the full-face veil that, in 2010, France became the first European country to ban outright.
"Wearing an outfit that fully covers the body to go to a beach does not correspond to our vision of living together, particularly with regard to the equality of men and women." Meanwhile, Muslim leaders and French human rights advocates celebrated the decision, claiming that the burkini bans represent little but thinly veiled institutionalized Islamophobia in a country that is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, if not its largest.
Marwan Muhammad, the director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, one of the nongovernmental organizations involved in challenging the burkini ban, called Friday's decision a "huge victory for human rights in France." "It affirms fundamental freedoms," he said in an interview.
For a growing number, the burkini represented, in the words of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, a “provocation.” The city of Nice, of which Estrosi was formerly mayor, outlawed the bathing suit because, he said, it “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks.” On Tuesday, images emerged of French police officers surrounding a Muslim woman on the beach in Nice, demanding that she remove some of her coverings.