A woman has been ejected from the Opera Bastille for wearing a full face veil.
France banned anyone from wearing clothing which covered the face in 2011, arguing that face-coverings prevent the clear identification of a person, which is both a security risk, and a social hindrance within a society which relies on facial recognition and expression in communication.
The woman, who was said to have been from the ‘Gulf area’ was sitting with a male companion at a performance of La Traviata on the front row of the theatre on October 3rd.
The woman was sitting just behind the conductor and visible on the monitors and caught the attention of theatre officials who noticed that her veil was covering her nose and mouth.
“I was alerted in the second act,” said Jean-Philippe Thiellay, the institute’s deputy director. “Some performers said they did not want to sing” if something was not done, according to Le Monde.
“[The official] told her that in France there is a ban of this nature, asked her to either uncover her face or leave the room. The man asked the woman to get up, they left,” Thiellay said.
“It’s never nice to ask someone to leave… But there was a misunderstanding of the law and the lady either had to respect it or leave,” he said.
France brought in the law in 2011 banning anyone from wearing clothing that conceals the face in a public space, or face a EUR150 fine. The law does not just apply to face veils – although it was believed that the controversial covering was the inspiration behind the law – but to anything which covers the face including masks and motor cycle helmets.
The fine for covering one’s face in public is relatively low, with the legislation reserving the main punishment for people who force another to cover their face. There is a fine of up to €30,000 and one year in prison for anyone who forces (by violence, threats or by abuse of power) another to wear face coverings; these penalties may be doubled if the victim is under 18.
The only exceptions to a woman wearing a niqab in public is if she is travelling in a private car or worshiping in a religious place.
The wearing of religious symbols in public schools was banned in 2004 by ‘the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools’. This covered all religions and included bans on turbans and crucifix pendants.
The law was challenged and taken to the European Court of Human Rights which upheld the French law on 1 July 2014, accepting the argument of the French government that the law was based on “a certain idea of living together”
France’s Ministry of Culture said a bill was currently being drafted to remind theatres, museums and other public institutions under its supervision of the rules regarding veils.