Paris opera memo set out ‘anti-burqa’ rules following woman's ejection
An internal memo outlining the new rules was issued on October 4; one day after an unidentified woman and her male companion were booted from a performance of La Traviata.
The memo, obtained by the French Daily Le Monde, was signed by Deputy Director Jean-Philippe Thiellay.
Opera staff were told that any head covering where only the only the eyes can be seen are illegal. Wearing a Muslim headscarf which only covers the hair, meanwhile, is allowed.
"Naturally, in the case of employees of the Opera, professional clothing or artistic costumes are exempt from this ban," the memo adds.
According to French Media reports, which surfaced over two weeks later, the woman was seated behind the conductor in the front row of the auditorium.
Thiellay said some of the performers had refused to continue with the show unless something was done about the woman’s attire, which they claimed was distracting.
The couple, reportedly from the Gulf region, were approached and told that covering one’s face in public spaces is illegal under French law. When told she had a choice between uncovering her face or leaving, they left without attempting to recoup the costs of their tickets, which stood at €231 ($294) a pop.
The incident follows a 2011 act prohibiting the covering of ones face in public. The law has led to some confrontations between women in low income housing estates on the edge of the French capital and police.
In July 2013, riots erupted in the Parisian suburb Trappes after police arrested a man for assaulting a police officer, who had tried to check the identity of his veiled wife.
Youths later attacked a police station in the area, and around 20 cars were set ablaze.
Supporters of the law say that the face-coverings hinder clear identification of a person, which they deem a security risk and a social impediment. Critics, meanwhile, say it is an unnecessary curtailment of individual freedom.
The ban is widely supported by the French public, with some polls showing up to 74 percent of the population backed the legislation when it was initially passed. The majority of the criticism, meanwhile, has come from abroad.
In July, judges at the European court of human rights (ECHR) upheld the law, accepting France’s claim that it would facilitate social harmony.
Arguing before the court, French officials said that only 1,900 of Frances estimated 5 million Muslims would be affected by the ban, according to 2009 research. French officials told the judge presiding over the case that that figure had since halved.
The ECHR had previously already upheld France's ban on headscarves in institutions of learning, as well as a domestic regulation requiring the removal of scarves, veils and turbans during security checks.