Safeguarding Religious and Political Neutrality
Banning employees wearing religious and political symbols in the public, business and corporate world.
Banning all forms of religious and political symbols in the workplace is a good thing. For any public institution, private business or corporation wanting to present an image of neutrality, banning people from wearing religious symbols, including headscarves, is a must.
Such a ban has been approved by the courts, last July 8, for all European Union countries, reaffirming a 2017, long-awaited ruling of the European Court of Justice stating that garments can be banned as part of general policy covering religious and political symbols.
In its first decision on the issue [March 14, 2017], the European Court of Justice ruled the hijab could be banned, but only as part of a general policy barring all religious and political symbols. The court also ruled that customers simply could not demand workers to remove their headscarves if the company has no policy barring religious symbols.
“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”
This is only common sense.
A company’s wish to project a neutral image is legitimate. In essence, this was the ruling of the European Court of Justice when they accordingly, allowed internal rules banning political, philosophical or religious symbols in the workplace. “However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination,” the court added.
This ruling was not without prompting dismay from some religious groups.
The ruling, even though more nuanced than a straightforward ban, was not, and still is not, without resulting in some confusion about which religious symbols can and could be worn at work. Some legal experts said it seemed to cut against a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that allowed crosses to be worn.
Referring to the rise of racially motivated incidents, the Conference of European Rabbis said Europe was sending a clear message that its faith communities were no longer welcome and called on politicians to ensure Europe would not isolate religious minorities.
The Open Society Justice Initiative was also disappointed by the ruling, which was described as discrimination against people choosing to show their religious beliefs and faith in the way they 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,” said the OSJ.
The National Secular Society in the United Kingdom, said: “Where a ban on employees wearing religious or political symbols is founded on a general company rule of religious and political neutrality, and where that rule is applied equally to all, it can’t be realistically argued that that this constitutes a “less favorable treatment”.
Keep your religious beliefs and, as a matter of fact, your sexual preferences in and for your bedroom.
Religious and political neutrality is a perfectly reasonable aim anywhere in the world. Where businesses and organizations wish to present themselves in such a way, this ruling demonstrates that this approach is perfectly consistent with equality and human rights law.
The same shall apply to all public services across the world!
J. Michael Dennis is a freelance journalist and writer who covers trends, entrepreneurship, ingenuity, creativity and empowerment in a chaotic new world of rapid changing times. You can find him on Twitter at @jmdlive