Religious Symbols Banned In EU Workplaces

A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice may allow employers to prohibit employees from wearing clothing with “a political, philosophical, or religious sign” according to Al Jazeera. The court claimed the decision was made to protect the freedom of businesses to enforce their own dress code, and operate as they feel would best benefit the work environment.

The ruling was made over the cases of two women in France and Belgium who were dismissed for refusing to remove hijabs in the workplace. According to Al Jazeera, because of the circumstances surrounding the ruling, many critics are calling it a “thinly veiled measure targeting Muslims.”

But Muslims aren’t the only group being targeted by the ruling. It would also allow employers to prohibit Jewish kippahs, Sikh turbans, and even Christian jewelry such as crosses or rings. Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis said that “the decision sends a signal to all religious groups in Europe.”

According to The Independent, Rabbis aren’t the only ones speaking out against the ruling, as the United Sikhs advocacy group called the ruling a “disturbing ruling allow[ing] employers to override fundamental human rights.”

While the ruling has garnered considerable backlash, many conservative leaders in the EU find it to be a refreshing step in the right direction. François Fillon, a conservative candidate in the French presidential election, in an article in the Independent,called the ruling an “immense relief” and an aid to “social peace” . He believes the ruling is an essential step toward correctly dealing with the influx of Muslim immigrants into Europe, along with other attempts to ban the burka and hijab in certain public places in France last year.

Aside from the religious implications of the ban, it has broader implications for the general public. If this ruling is upheld, workplaces will not only be able to ban religious symbols, but philosophical and political symbols as well. This means that any clothing associated with an ideology, be it political, philosophical, or religious could be banned from workplaces.

The court ruling did acknowledge that the ban may constitute an “indirect discrimination” if people adhering to a particular belief , such as Muslims, are adversely affected by the ban. But that discrimination, according to an article in the Independent, would be permissible if it was “objectively justified by a legitimate aim.”  The difficulty in individual rulings, would be discovering if the aim was legitimate – such as a policy of neutrality – or if it really construes direct discrimination against a people group.

Many feminist Muslim campaign groups have also spoken out against the decision, saying that it unfairly affects Muslim women, and may serve to push them out of the workforce. As many Muslim women refuse to take off the traditional style of dress, it may prevent them from holding jobs with certain companies, and adversely affect the community as a whole.

The court expressed concerns over the potential outcomes of the ruling, stating that “we fear that employers will treat it as a license to discriminate at the point of hire,” but stood by the ruling despite concerns.

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