Belgium: Covering your head in court

According to Belgian law, everybody must appear in court with bare head.

Judge Walter De Smedt, of Antwerp, decided to actually implement it. Last week a Jewish man appeared in court and De Smedt ordered him to take off his kippah. The man refused, for religious reasons. He asked a lawyer to represent him and left the court.

In the following case, a Muslim woman delayed the judge because she refused to take off her head veil. The woman was also replaced by a lawyer.

Ten days previously, the judge removed a Muslim from his court on charges of contempt of court since he refused to remove his head cover. The man now risks two years in jail.

De Smedt wants to bring the matter up to arbitration so that a principle decision on head covering will be made.

Open VLD, the Flemish Liberal Party, wants the law to be clear. "Now the prohibition depends on which court you enter and in front of
which judge you appear," says Claude Marinower. "The law is the same for everybody, the application but be too."

The Forum of Jewish Organization is critical of the law. "There is legal ground for the prohibition, that is obvious, but the judge must also ask himself of his request is proper," says Daniël Peterfreund.

"Suppose that somebody undergoes chemotherapy, they you don't ask them to take off their head cover," says Peterfreund. "If the judge asks me to, I will take off my kippah, but I think it is regrettable that our socieyt is evolving in that direction."

The Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism will check if steps can be taken against the judge.

Source: VRT Nieuws 1, 2 (Dutch)

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