PARIS — The burkini may yet have its day in the French sun.
France’s highest administrative court said it was against the burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, one of more than 30 seaside towns that have imposed decrees against wearing the full-body swimsuits.
Mayors in those towns argue they are protecting public order and France’s commitment to secularism as the country reels from a wave of Islamic terror attacks and tourists shun Paris.
Michel Tubiana, honorary president of France’s Human Rights League, called it a victory, with the State Council 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.
The rights league and an anti-Islamophobia association brought the case to the State Council, which is the final arbiter of cases relating to executive power, local authorities and any 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 forced to disrobe on beaches in front of uniformed officers.
The burkini ban has dominated newspapers amid the August doldrums, roiled senior members of the French government and goosed sales of the two-piece swimwear, which some buy for sun protection.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls backed the mayors, calling the burkini a symbol of the “enslavement of women.”
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.