The European Union’s top law court has ruled that employers are entitled to ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols, such as hijabs, at work.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said it does not constitute “direct discrimination” if a firm has an internal rule banning the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign.”
The court gave a judgment in the cases of two women, in France and Belgium, who were dismissed for refusing to remove hijabs. The Belgian woman had been working as a receptionist for G4S Secure Solutions, which has a general ban on wearing visible religious or political symbols, while the French claimant is an IT consultant who was told to remove her headscarf after a client complained.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission said the ruling sets an alarming precedent that cements the inferior legal status under which Muslims are expected to live in Europe.
The IHRC believes the ruling will likely set off a chain reaction with more bans instituted across the continent where politicians are riding a populist surge whipped up by an environment of hate targeting Muslims and other minorities.
“There is no saying where it will end,” the IHRC said. “The ruling means that employers can effectively impose bans on religiously-mandated dress or looks, for example, Muslim men wearing beards and women wearing modest attire .
“The ruling adds to a growing list of prohibitions targeting the Muslim female practice of wearing the veil in public already in place in France, Belgium, Bulgaria and parts of Switzerland. In 2004, France passed a law banning the wearing of headscarves in French schools. It was couched as a general rule against ostensible signs of religion but was largely aimed at the Muslim population.
“It will also have an adverse impact on the job prospects of a community already reeling from the double whammy of racial and religious discrimination by effectively preventing many practising Muslims from gaining employment.”
Last August a House of Commons committee report found that Muslims in the UK were more than twice as likely to be unemployed than the general population. In France the unemployment rate for all immigrants is 17.3% compared to 9.7% for the population at large. The figure rises to over 40% for young people living in Paris’ suburbs and other major metropolitan areas.
IHRC head of research Arzu Merali added: “This gives legal cover to what is essentially an ongoing hate campaign to make Muslims second-class citizens in Europe. It will only increase feelings of marginalisation and disenfranchisement in Muslim communities.”