The Scribe

Faith at Work: Controversy Over Religious Ruling

Catalina Rao, Staff Writer

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The European Union’s highest court caused an uproar when it revealed its decision to allow employers to restrict religious and political symbols in the workplace as they see fit. The issue arose when it became clear that hijabs were included in the new law.

The movement to create the law began when two women in France were fired from their jobs due to their refusal to remove their headscarves. The women then took their plight to court where it swept through the justice system until it reached the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The result was the ECJ’s first ever ruling on wearing religious garb at work.  The law does not only target hijabs; it also allows Christian crosses and other symbols to be banned as well.  While the ECJ has clarified that the law prohibits customers from requesting the removal of a religious symbol unless the company has a policy banning them, many citizens are still wary of the decision.

The first of the deciding cases involved a Muslim receptionist named Samira Achbita. She had worked for the London-based outsourcing and Security Company G4s for three years and decided that it was time to begin wearing her headscarf to work. Soon after, Achbita was asked to remove her headscarf. When she refused, the company decided to let her go. Achbitas’ case resulted in a ruling that stated, “The rule thus treats all employees to the undertaking in the same way and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally.”

The second case was brought to light when design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was fired from the IT consultancy firm, Micropole. Her dismissal was a result of a customer complaining that her headscarf “embarrassed” his staff.  Upon hearing this news, Micropole decided that firing Bougnaoui was the best course of action.  Bougnaouis’ case ended up in the EJC and the result became the new ruling announced last Tuesday.

The ruling has come at a crucial time for several European countries.  For instance, the upcoming elections in France, and Germany are beginning to heat up as anti-Islamic diatribe is quickly becoming prominent.  Francois Fillion, Frances’ far right presidential candidate accepts the ruling with open arms, stating in an interview with the Guardian, “an immense relief, not just for thousands of companies but also for their workers.”  He believes the judgment will help create “peace,” and “cohesion,” in society.

Germany’s right-wing party, Alternative für Deutschland (AFD), reiterated its stance on Islam in light of the announcement. AFD leader Georg Pazderski publicly stated on behalf of his organization, “Of course companies have to be allowed to ban the wearing of headscarves.”

On the contrary, Maryam H’madoun, a representative from the Open Society Justice Initiative, describes the ruling as discrimination against all religious peoples who choose to celebrate their religion through dress. “It will lead to Muslim women being discriminated in the workplace, but also Jewish men who wear kippas, Sikh men who wear turbans, people who wear crosses. It affects all of them, but disproportionately Muslim women,” H’madoun expressed in an interview with the Guardian.

But does this ruling mean that Muslim employees are being treated less favorably than other subjects of the law?  On one hand, Stephen Evans, leader of campaigns for the National Secular Society UK has publicly explained that because the law applies to all religious people, it cannot be argued that one specific group is being targeted, therefore, “this ruling demonstrates that this approach is perfectly consistent with equality and human rights law.”  The society believes that religion is a private matter that “should be kept in the home.”

Adversely, Wilcox student Nuha Rashad believes that the ruling unfairly targets Muslim women because hijabs are such a large part of their religion. She explains that millions of women wear hijabs and taking away that right not only goes against their way of life, but in some cases prohibits them from attending work. Rashad says, “What are women supposed to do?  Not go to work? Religion and its symbols, in this case a hijab, are part of a person’s identity.  If you take their right to express that, you take away who they are.”

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Faith at Work: Controversy Over Religious Ruling