PARIS — As beach vacations come to an end in France, so too ebbs the hysteria around the burkini.
On Friday, France’s highest administrative court ruled against a ban of the full-body swimsuit in Villeneuve-Loubet, one of more than 30 seaside towns that have imposed such decrees under the guise of protecting secularism and public order as France reels from a wave of terror attacks linked to Islamic State.
The Conseil d’État’s three judges said the ban “illegally breached fundamental freedoms.”
Michel Tubiana, honorary president of France’s Human Rights League, called it a victory, with the court coming down on the side of individual freedom and religious freedom.
He said the decision could set a precedent and topple other beach bans that have caused an international furor.
“Besides the ridiculous debate that has made France the laughingstock of the world, what is at stake here is the division of the nation by origin and religion of men and women who live in France,” the league said in a statement. “We reject this vision of France and we call women and men of this country to reject it.”
The rights league and an anti-Islamophobia association brought the case to the Conseil d’État, or Council of State, which is the final arbiter of cases relating to executive power, local authorities and any other agency invested with public authority.
Amnesty International applauded the decision.
“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fueled by and is fueling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director. “French authorities must now drop the pretense that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices and are an assault on their freedoms of expression, religion and right to nondiscrimination.
“These bans do nothing to increase public safety, but do a lot to promote public humiliation. Not only are they in themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, the enforcement of these bans leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls,” he added, referring to news images of women disrobing on beaches in front of uniformed officers.
Rabia Zargarpur, a Dubai-based designer who markets modest fashions online, applauded the about-face on the burkini.
“I am thrilled. That is more like a country that stands for fundamental freedom,” she said. “I really hope that France starts treating its Muslim population as equal citizens. Just as everyone else in France is allowed to wear what they like in the name of fashion and freedom, they should allow women to dress modestly and wear the burkini or hijab if that is what they choose.”
The burkini ban has dominated newspapers amid the August doldrums, roiled and divided senior members of the Socialist government and become a political football as the country gears up for elections next year.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls backed the mayors, calling the burkini a symbol of the “enslavement of women.” On Friday, he said the debate — which encompasses questions of assimilation, secularism and French identity amid rising Muslim immigration — would continue, and he insisted the ban did not undermine individual freedoms.
According to an Ifop survey commissioned by Le Figaro newspaper, 64 percent of French people are in favor of the bans while another 30 percent are indifferent.
France has been grappling with dwindling tourism, especially in Paris, as terror fears, wet weather and a spate of strikes dented visitor numbers. The capital’s tourism body estimates it could lose $1.5 billion in revenues this year.
Some local authorities dubbed a burkini ban a necessity after a Bastille Day attack in which a truck driver plowed into crowds gathered on waterfront of Nice, leaving 86 dead.