The French ban on face covering is an act of parliament passed by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010, resulting in the ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqābs, and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances.
There are estimated to be only about 2,000 women wearing the full veil in France. The bill makes it illegal to wear garments such as the niqab or burka, which incorporate a full-face veil, anywhere in public.
France's lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public. There were 335 votes for the bill and only one against in the 557-seat National Assembly.
The niqab, says leading feminist philosopher Elizabeth Badinter "is totally contrary to the three principles of the French Republic".
Those principles - liberty, equality, fraternity - can be seen written or carved on the front of every French town hall.
The Interior Ministry estimates that only about 2,000 women wear the niqab in France, while Mr. Gérin, who helped write a long parliamentary report on the issue, believes that the number is higher. But with an estimated six million Muslims in France, the action taken seems large compared with the problem, critics say, and they accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy and his center-right party of playing politics with a generalized and unjustified fear of Islam and immigrants.
In June last year, in a speech to both houses of Parliament, President Nicholas Sarkozy flatly declared that "the burqa is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience." By contrast, in his Cairo address to the Muslim world barely three weeks earlier, Obama took more or less the opposite position. “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal,” he said.
Naima Bouteldja interviewed 32 women who wear the niqab for the Open Society Foundation, a nongovernmental organization. She found none who said they had been forced to wear the veil, and 10 said they started wearing the niqab as a response to the political controversy. Eight of the 32 were French converts to Islam; a third said they did not wear the niqab all the time.
Violators wearing a face covering may be fined up to 150 euros and/or required to attend citizenship classes. In contrast, anyone convicted of forcing a woman to cover her face may be fined up to 30,000 euro and jailed for one year, and the penalties double if that woman is a minor.
Controversy has surrounded the definition of "public place" [Guardian report], including streets, buses, trains, shops, banks, restaurants, theaters, libraries, museums, hospitals and while picking up children from school. The few exceptions include places of worship, the home and while traveling as a passenger in a car.
By recognizing the burqa as not merely an article of clothing but, in the words of French lawmaker Andre Gerin, the “tip [of] a black tide of fundamentalism,” France has signaled that it takes the threat of radical Islam seriously.
According to the Interior Ministry of France, the ban does not target the headscarf or any other head gear, as long as the accessories do not prevent the person from being identified.