Judge: “There has been a grave and illegal attack on the Sikh boys’ right for a disciplinary hearing Sikh Boys’ French lawyer: “We have won our first legal battle.”

Paris, Friday- A French court has ordered a school to form a disciplinary committee, to decide within 15 days, if it will admit or expel three French Sikh school-boys ending a six-week stalemate since schools reopened in September. The judge said that by not giving the schoolboys a right to a disciplinary hearing, the school had committed a “grave and serious attack” on the rights of the Sikh schoolboys.

Jasvir Singh, Bikramjit Singh and Ranjit Singh were forced to go to the Adminstrative Tribunal this week to seek an order for the school to form a disciplinary panel to decide if they will admitted or expelled from the Louise Michel school in Bobigny, a suburb of Paris.

“We have started our legal battles with a victory. The judge acknowledged that the school had illegally attacked the rights of Jasvir, Bikramjit and Ranjit,” said a jubilant Kudrat Singh, Director of UNITED SIKHS, a global human development organization, which has been in the forefront of the Right To Turban campaign since last December.

Welcoming the judgment, Jasvir Singh’s father, Gurdial Singh said, “We have waited nearly 2 months for this. The stalemate has been broken. Our children will not give up their right to wear their Turban.”

Counsel for the boys, Felix De Belloy, told UNITED SIKHS in a telephone interview, “This was our first battle and we won it. We have still to fight the battle for the right to religious __expression. Today’s battle was a right for a school boy to be heard before a school excludes him from school.”

“The school administration was trying to avoid taking a decision and the Sikh schoolboys education was being affected. We hope the decision today will accelerate the progress of our legal battles ahead,” Mr de Belloy said.

Mr de belloy said, “The school has only two choices. The school can either allow the Sikh schoolboys to wear their head coverings that they have been wearing to school or expel them.”

UNITED SIKHS legal counsel, Stephen Grosz, who is also representing a Turkish student at the European Court of Justice, for her right to wear the Hijab, said the following about the decision today: "This decision is an important first step in the battle against the French law on religious signs. The Administrative Court has recognised that pupils can't be excluded without having an opportunity to put their case, stating that the case involved a serious and manifestly illegal interference with the rights of defence. The court noted in particular that the schools did not claim that the pupils wearing turbans created any risk to order within the school.”

“French law places thousands of school pupils at risk, forcing them to decide between their right to education and their right to manifest their religion. The court has recognised that their education should not be put in jeopardy while this underlying conflict is resolved. We hope that the French courts will show the same courage when dealing with the law on religious signs," added Mr Grosz, a senior partner and Head of Human Rights at a London civil rights law firm, Bindman and Partners.

Since schools reopened in September, Jasvir, Bikramjit and Manjit have not been allowed to attend classes because they refused to remove their Turbans. Instead they were asked to do self-study in the school canteen. The new law which bans the wearing of ostensible religious signs to public schools, requires a school to give the student a hearing before expelling him for wearing the religious sign.

On Oct 19, a packed courtroom heard counsel for these young Sikh boys, M A Beauquier, argue before the President of the Administrative Tribunal, “We have not come here to argue for our clients’ right to religious freedom. Not yet. We have come to argue for their right to defend themselves against a decision of their Principal to exclude them from school without giving them an opportunity of a disciplinary hearing, as required by the law.”

Mr Beauquier told the Tribunal that, when schools re-opened for the new-year in September, Jasvir, Bikramjit and Manjit had attended Jean Michel School in Bobigny, “wearing a Turban which all young Sikhs must wear.”

“This turban was considered by the Management of the college as a sign by which these boys expressed a religious membership openly, within the meaning of the law which prohibits the wearing of any ostensible religious sign,” Mr Beauquier said.

He added that the school did not allow the boys to attend classes but allowed them to do self-study in the school canteen until Sept 22. “Suddenly on Thursday Sep 23, 2004 Jasvir Singh saw himself being refused access to education all together. He was verbally told that it was prohibited for him to be in the vicinity of the school,” Mr Beauquier said in his written submissions.

The school had filed a 10 page reply to the Sikh boys’ application arguing that the school had not excluded the Sikh boys and that a dialogue was continuing and there is no need for emergency measures sought by the Sikh school boys. Mr Beauquier filed a response to the school’s submissions, giving a day-by-day account of the unsuccessful attempts of the Sikh boys to attend school since September.

Mr Beauquier argued that the decision to ban the Sikh boys from school was made ignoring all the procedures laid down, which permit the student and his representatives to present a defense.

“Following this, on September 28, Gurdial Singh, Jasvir Singh’s father, wrote a letter to the principal of the School asking him to reinstate Jasvir Singh as his son had not been given his legal right to defend himself,” Mr Beauquier said.

“The Principal of the school did not respond to Mr Gurdial Singh’s letter and we wrote to the school giving them 8 days to reinstate the Sikh boys. We got no response,” Mr Beauquier said in reply to the School’s claim that a dialogue is continuing between the school and the Sikh school children.

“This situation, where the student is expelled from a school without defending or explaining himself, is no more acceptable,” Mr Beauquier argued. “It is under these conditions where the applicant requests the President of the Court to safeguard the fundamental freedom at the very least by ordering the reinstatement of the boys to school or the formation of the disciplinary board,” he told the Tribunal.

Click here to see the judgement in French

Click here to see the judgement summary in English

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