Proposals by the French government to ban wearing Islamic burqa in public would carry serious constitutional risks and have very uncertain legal backing, a top advisory body said on Tuesday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared on several occasions that full-face veils, known as burqas or niqabs, have no place in French society but has not made clear what practical steps the government might take.
France has been moving towards outlawing full Islamic veils in certain public buildings and had appeared to stop short of a broader ban that could violate religious freedom and deepen a rift in the government.
The issue has caused intense debate in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon in January asked the Council of State, which advises on the preparation of new laws and orders, to look into the issue and give an opinion on the most effective judicial steps to outlaw the veils.
But in a report made public on Tuesday, it said introducing such a ban would threaten rights guaranteed under both the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
"There appears to the Council of State to be no legally unchallengeable justification for carrying out such a ban," it said. Its view was made "independent of any consideration as to the desirability of legislating in this direction".
Only a few hundred women in France are believed to wear full veils but many in both Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party as well as on parts of the political left see them as an affront to France's secular traditions.
Last month, the government refused citizenship to a man who forced his French wife to wear a full-face veil.
The Council of State's report noted that authorities already had ample powers to require people to show their faces in schools, public buildings and offices as well as for identity checks and access to public services.
The Council of State's report underlines legal headaches surrounding any attempt to legislate about burqas and niqabs, let alone to deal with the public controversy over the issue.
Fillon, who had been planning to introduce legislation in the first few months of the year, told UMP deputies on Monday he would go "as far as possible on the path of a general ban on the full veil while respecting the general principles of the law".
The report added that public security, one of the main arguments given for outlawing the burqa, "could not justify a general ban of the full veil in itself, there being no specific problem associated with it in and of itself".
Earlier this year, France's proposal to make full veils illegal sparked an outcry.
The French government is already facing internal dissent over a campaign to discuss national identity that has attracted accusations of racism, and a burqa law could be a difficult sell.
Despite having Europe's biggest Muslim minority, France set up the special panel six months ago to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full-face veil.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 31 Mart 2010, 01:50