Private companies in the European Union (EU) that prohibit employees from covering their heads with a headscarf while working will not disrespect religious freedom, as long as they do so in order to maintain a policy of neutrality. The decision, on an issue that has permeated the European public debate for years, was taken this Thursday (15) by the Court of Justice of the EU.
The court analyzed two similar cases filed by German courts, which called for a more specific direction from the bloc on the issue. At home, a babysitter of disabled children in Hamburg and a pharmacy cashier in Mueller were forbidden by their employers to wear the hijab, an Islamic veil that covers their hair. They didn’t use it when they were hired, but they joined years later.
The court had to decide whether the ban characterized a lack of respect for religious freedom and discrimination in the workplace, or whether it was an acceptable practice to promote the freedom of management of private companies – and opted for the second option.
“The ban on wearing any visible element of political, philosophical or religious expression in the workplace must be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image to customers or to avoid social conflicts,” said the tribunal.
The decision of this fourth follows a similar judgment that the Court of Justice rendered in 2017, when it released the first directive on the issue of wearing the Islamic headscarf at work. That year, the court ruled that the veil ban does not amount to discrimination, as long as the ban is generalized to other religious symbols – such as the crucifix and the kippah (a type of beret worn by the Jews). However, he made a reservation: the decision to ban the use cannot be the result of consumer demands.
This week’s judgment adds a new chapter by establishing that the valid argument for employers to ban the headscarf is to portray an image of neutrality.
The two cases which served as the framework for the decision have not yet been analyzed by the German courts, which have the final say in deciding whether or not there has been discrimination.
The debate over the use of the hijab has been burning in the European Union for years, especially as member countries of the bloc have seen the number of Muslim residents increase. In 2016, they represented 4.9% of the European population. Even with the rulings of the EU Court of Justice to legitimize the veil ban, there is no consensus among the guidelines observed in national courts.
In August 2020, for example, the German Federal Labor Court ruled that female teachers in the Berlin area could not be prohibited from covering their heads with scarves when working.
France, the country with the most Muslims in the Western world, has banned the wearing of the Islamic veil in public schools since 2004. In 2010, it went further: it vetoed covering one’s face ( with niqabs) or the whole body (with burqas) in any public space, on the grounds that the object prevents socialization and undermines public safety, as officers are unable to identify those with their faces covered .
International organizations, including the UN (United Nations), claim that the measure violates human rights.
With the Covid pandemic, the theme has taken on new contours on the European continent. The compulsory use of masks to contain the spread of the virus has provided campaigners with arguments to call the French government a hypocrite, because with the protective accessory, which also partially covers the face, no one has become a threat. for safety or has not ceased to live in society.