Headscarf ban ‘not observing’ freedom of religion

Civil rights advocates said the headscarf ban ruling by the European Court of Justice did not appear to “place weight on the importance of freedom of religion”.

Headscarf ban ‘not observing’ freedom of religion

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties was responding to a landmark ruling by the ECJ, the EU's highest court, on the EU directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.

A Belgium Muslim woman had sought the court's ruling on whether the prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf, which arose from a general company policy, constituted direct discrimination.

The court ruled: “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”

But it said if there was no such policy, customers cannot demand an employee to remove a headscarf.

The ICCL said the European Court of Human Rights, a separate court to the ECJ, had a specific provision (Article 9) – the right to respect for religious freedom.

ICCL director Liam Herrick said the ECJ examined this issue from “a narrow discrimination perspective”.

He said there appeared to be “a gap between the protections afforded to individuals under EU law and the higher level of protection of rights under the European Convention of Human Rights”.

He said this convention still applied and that these cases could have been brought before the ECHR.

Dublin Imam Umar Al-Qadri said the ruling meant that Muslim women had to “hide their identity” if they wanted to work.

Given this was the European Court of Justice he said it was going to have an effect, particularly in countries like the Netherlands and France where there was already “an atmosphere of anti-Muslim sentiment”.

“In the West, we are seeing a shift towards assimilation, against religion. The message is: you need to assimilate, if you don't, you don't belong here.”

Tipperary-based Muslim academic and author Dr Rachel Woodlock said the ruling reflected the “ideology of enforced secularism” which was “targeting Muslim women in particular”.

She added: “I despair at the type of message that is coming from Europe."

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