European Court of Human Rights; Article 9; Turkey; religious freedom; headscarf controversy; Şahin v. Turkey; Arslan v. Turkey


This paper examines the regulation of the religious dress of men and women in two decisions by the European Court of Human Rights: Şahin v. Turkey and Arslan v. Turkey. In Şahin, the Court upheld a ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf, an article of clothing worn exclusively by women, at a public university. In Arslan, the Court rejected a ban on the wearing of a type of religious uniform worn only by men who were members of a politically subversive Islamic group. In both cases, the Court asserted that its decision was necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of others. This Article argues that reading these two cases together reveals a gendered approach to the regulation of religious clothing, with the Court endowing the religious dress of women with a political significance it does not extend to men’s religious dress. Further, a comparative reading demonstrates that the Court is less willing to accept women’s stated reasons for adopting religious dress, thus curtailing women's agency in the name of promoting gender equality.