Could Italian mayors follow in the footsteps of their French
counterparts and issue decrees outlawing the burkini? In order to answer
this question, we would need to discuss the meaning that the principle
of secularism has in each of these two countries.
In France, the heir and guardian of the Enlightenment, the secularism of
the republic is defended in the first article of the constitution.
Secularism here is interpreted as the absolute neutrality of government
institutions in the face of religious phenomena, which are considered to
be potential factors for social divisions. The state must guarantee
freedom of religion, without interference. Meanwhile, religion must
remain a “private affair,” devoid of any social or legal emphasis. In
other words, secularism in France is based on the clear separation of
church and state. Citizens may be Jews, Muslims and Christians in the
confines of their own homes, but French republicans once they step out
the front door.
As a result, students in French state schools (excluding universities)
are not allowed to wear clothes or symbols that “conspicuously manifest
religious affiliation,” including the veil. Students may be suspended or
expelled if they do so, under French law no. 228/200.
Similarly, “identity concealment by the covering of the face in public
spaces” is prohibited in France, under law no. 1192/2010 — effectively
banning the burqa and niqab. The European Court of Human Rights upheld
the ban on wearing full-face veils in public on two occasions.
In Italy, however, the secular state is understood in a positive and
inclusive sense. The Italian constitution regards religious phenomena as
articles for personal expression that can exist in private and in