BERLIN -- A conservative German state yesterday became the nation's first to ban Muslim teachers from wearing head scarves in public schools, taking a stand in a debate that has split public and political opinion.
Legislators in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg approved the law with dissent only from the opposition Green party, which contended that it is unbalanced because it still allows Christian symbols in the classroom.
The measure could be open to challenge because Germany's supreme court, in ruling last year that teachers are allowed to wear head scarves unless state laws ban them, said that any such bans should treat all religions equally.
The ruling stemmed from the case of Fereshta Ludin, a German of Afghan origin who battled through the courts after an elementary school in Baden-Wuerttemberg denied her a job in 1998 because she insisted on wearing the scarf while teaching.
In yesterday's debate in the state capital, Stuttgart, state education minister Annette Schavan said the scarf was "part of the history of women's suppression," while Christian symbols were Western tradition. Schavan also alluded to many Germans' view that the scarf is an Islamic political symbol.
"The head scarf has no place in school because of its ambiguous symbolism," she said.
But Winfried Kretschmann, the Green party's leader in the state legislature, said the law was discriminatory. "Whoever imposes a blanket ban on the head scarf as part of a religious creed must also ban the nun's habit, the yarmulke, and the cross on the deacon's lapel," he told lawmakers.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in December that "head scarves have no place among civil servants, including teachers."