A Muslim woman waits to cross a street in Berlin’s Neukoelln district. [File: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]
LUXEMBOURG CITY – Last week, one of the European Union’s highest court’s permitted private employers to prohibit their employees from wearing religious attire in the workspace.
The controversial ruling by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) was made after two German women decided to wear the hijab but their employers refused to let them wear the headscarf. Their employers wanted to fire them for their decision to don the hijab.
The case went to the German court and then to the CJEU, which ruled on July 15 that employers can limit their employee’s religious expressions where there is “a genuine need” to “present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes”.
Human rights activist and property lawyer Saadiya Gani spoke to Inayat Wadee about Europe’s apparent disregard for human rights in instances such as the hijab ban.
Gani said this ruling endorses the rights of the employers and downplays certain basic rights, like right to religious freedom. She added: “It goes further, because what is behind the right to religious freedom? It is the right to dignity which encompasses the need for humans to identify freely with their belief system.”
She said that the situation forces employees to choose between religious and work duties. “This forces you [as an employee] to choose between your religious duties and your work duties. It’s a very [unfortunate] situation and it is actually contrary to human rights”.
What is behind the right to religious freedom? It is the right to dignity, which encompasses the need for humans to identify freely with their belief system – Saadiya Gani, human rights activist and property lawyer
The court states that such restrictions are not discriminatory, as long as they apply equally to expressions of all religions or beliefs. Any restrictions should also restrict, for example, the wearing of the Jewish kippah and the Sikh turban.
In a human rights context, Gani said this issue of triumphing the employer’s rights and downplaying religious freedom and dignity is actually a trend that is setting Europe behind as far as human rights is concerned.
Watch the full discussion here: