BERLIN - Germany's top court said Friday that Muslim teachers can wear the Islamic headscarf in class as long as it doesn't disrupt school activities, in a ruling likely to revive emotional debate.
The Constitutional Court said Muslim teachers in state schools could no longer face a blanket ban on the headscarf, effectively revising its 2003 decision that left the door open to it being barred.
Judges at the Karlsruhe-based court in southwest Germany said a ban could only be justified if the wearing of the Islamic headscarf led to a "sufficiently concrete danger" of disruption in the school, or of "state neutrality".
The ruling is likely to relaunch a longstanding debate in a country with around four million Muslims amid recent divisive protests against the supposed "Islamisation" of Europe.
Since 2003 several of Germany's 16 regional states, which are responsible for education, have banned teachers wearing the Muslim headscarf following the top court's initial ruling.
The Constitutional Court had said it was up to each state to write its own laws on the issue.
But in their decision published Friday following a complaint by two Muslim women, the judges ruled that an outright ban fell foul of the basic right to religious freedom in Germany.
The judges also said that Christian values and traditions should not be given preference, as is the case in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
The two plaintiffs, a teacher and a school social worker, from western NRW state had lodged the complaint against the ban.
Nurhan Soykan, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, welcomed the ruling, saying that even if it did not amount to a "general permit" for the headscarf, it sent a "positive message".
Germany saw weekly protests begin late last year by the populist PEGIDA movement, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, but the marches in the eastern city of Dresden have waned recently.
The country, home to the biggest Turkish community outside of Turkey, has heatedly debated the headscarf issue since neighbouring France passed a law in 2004 banning the wearing of headscarves or any other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools.