EU Court Rules Hijab May Be Banned In Workplace

The leading European Union court tossed more fuel on a fire that is burning on the continent Tuesday. It ruled that public authorities have the right to ban employees from wearing clothing indicating religious belief, such as the Islamic head scarf.

The case stemmed from a woman in Belgium who was told she could not wear a hijab at her place of employment. The local government established rules mandating strict neutrality by avoiding wearing anything indicative of religion or ideology.

By Western standards, the hijab is seen by most as a symbol of subjugation of women that is not compatible with a free society.

The Muslim woman claimed her freedom of religion was violated, and the conflict reached the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The CJEU concluded that the “neutrality” policy is a justifiable aim for a government. At the same time, municipalities may also permit visible indicators of belief or ideology if they so choose.

Measures limiting or banning clothing and other outward signs must be implemented in a consistent and systematic way, according to the E.U. court.

This new ruling follows a decision handed down by the same court in July 2021 concerning private employers. The CJEU declared businesses may enact broad bans on “any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace.”

The court clarified that these companies may have an interest in displaying “a neutral image toward customers or to prevent social disputes.”

As a matter of caution, the Luxembourg body said that E.U. courts should weigh whether prohibiting headscarves and other religious attire represents a “genuine need” for employers. They should also consider a member state’s laws concerning freedom of religion in making such decisions.

The rights and interests of the individual should be considered, according to the court.

This case was brought before the E.U.’s highest court by two Muslim women in Germany. After returning from parental leave, both were informed that they could not wear their headscarves while on duty.

One was a sales assistant for a chemist and the other worked with special needs children. Both objected to their employer’s edicts and took them to court.

The case moved up the ladder when German courts sought advice concerning E.U. employment regulations.