European companies can ban employees from wearing religious or political symbols including the Islamic headscarf, the EU’s top court ruled Tuesday in a landmark case.
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 Luxembourg-based court was considering the case of a Muslim woman fired by the security company G4S in Belgium after she insisted on wearing a headscarf.
Rights group Amnesty International said the ECJ action was ‘disappointing’ and would only encourage discrimination.
‘By ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a back door to precisely such prejudice,’ Amnesty said in a statement.
The wearing of religious symbols, and especially Islamic symbols such as the headscarf, has become a hot button issue with the rise of nationalist and sometimes overtly anti-Muslim parties across Europe.
Some countries such as Austria are mulling a complete ban on the full-face veil in public while in France last year local authorities barred women wearing the burkini, the full-body swimsuit, fining those who did.
Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest in the European Parliament, welcomed the ECJ finding as a victory for European values.
‘Important ruling by the European Court of Justice: employers have the right to ban the Islamic veil at work. European values must apply in public life,’ Weber said in a tweet.
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