The highest court of Turkey has blocked government moves to allow college students to wear Muslim headscarves.
A vote by parliament to ease a ban on scarves being worn on campuses violated the constitution’s secular principles, said the Constitutional Court.
A headscarf ban prevents many girls from being educated, says the government.
But, seeing this move as a step towards allowing Islam to figure more largely in Turkish public life, much of the secular establishment resisted it.
This ruling, by a panel of 11 judges, could foreshadow the outcome of a separate court case, in which the ruling Party (AKP), could be banned for anti-secular activities.
Some 71 members of the party, including the prime minister and the president, could also be banned from belonging to a political party for five years.
“It is a historic ruling… It signals that hard times are coming for the AKP”, said veteran politician Husamettin Cindoruk.
But Bekir Bozdag, a senior party member of the AKP, said the court had overstepped its jurisdiction.
Cornerstones of the secular state
“This is interfering with both democracy and parliament’s legislative authority”, he told the AFP news agency.
Some see the headscarf ban as one of the cornerstones of the secular state : a symbol of the exclusion of Islam from state activities.
The army, courts and universities are part of the secularist establishment, which is opposed to any reform of the ban.
Re-elected last year with 47% of the vote, the AK Party says it is a matter of personal and religious freedom.
In February, it overturned the ban in universities thanks to its strong presence in parliament to push through a parliament amendment.
Thursday’s court ruling is the latest episode in a power struggle between the establishment and the AK Party, which has its roots in Islamism.
A constitutional impasse, over whether the AKP’s Abdullah Gul could be Turkey’s president, forced last year’s elections.
The AKP is“the focal point of anti-secular activities”, and is seeking to have it disbanded, says Turkey’s chief prosecutor.