Leyla Sahin v. Turkey
Application no. 44774/98
The case involved a University student from a traditional family of practicing Muslims; who considered it her religious duty to wear the hijab. Following a ban on beards and headscarves she was on several occasions refused entry to exams and lectures, but was not suspended for wearing the Islamic headscarf. Leyla alleged that ‘a ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in higher-education institutions violated her rights and freedoms under Articles 8, 9, 10 and 14 of the Convention’. The Court sited the Turkish Dress Regulations Act of 3/12/34, which banned wearing religious attire other than places of worship and religious ceremonies. The recent phenomenon of wearing the headscarf to schools and universities began in the 1980s, leading to examples of case-law from the Constitutional Court. In a judgment of 7 March 1989 the Constitutional Court set out what it viewed as the freedom of religion, conscience and worship: it was ‘not to be likened to a right to wear any particular religious attire’ but ‘guaranteed first and foremost the liberty to decide whether or not to follow a religion.’ Therefore ‘freedom to manifest one’s religion could be restricted on public-order grounds to defend the principle of secularism’. In that the university was safeguarding the principle of secularism and democracy their actions were seen as proportionate to the aims pursued and could be regarded as ‘necessary in a democratic society’, therefore the Court believed that there had been no breach of Article 9, as ‘Article 9 does not protect every act motivated or inspired by a religion or belief and does not in all cases guarantee the right to behave in the public sphere in a way which is dictated by a belief’ (§66).