PARIS — European rabbis condemned an EU court’s ruling allowing firms to prohibit employees’ religious clothes and symbols, saying the ruling amounts to saying that “faith communities are no longer welcome.”
The ruling Tuesday by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg also said that customers cannot simply demand that workers remove 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,” the court said in a statement.
The ruling, which came amid a rise in the popularity of anti-Muslim politicians in Europe over the proliferation of jihadist attacks on the continent and ethnic and religious tensions, was on two lawsuits filed by Muslim employees who were sanctioned for wearing religious symbols or prohibited from doing so.
“This decision sends signals to all religious groups in Europe,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement Tuesday. “With the rise of racially motivated incidents and today’s decision, Europe is sending a clear message; its faith communities are no longer welcome. Political leaders need to act to ensure that Europe does not isolate religious minorities and remains a diverse and open continent.”
One of the lawsuits that led to the ruling was by an employee of the Belgian branch of G4S, the London-listed outsourcing and security company. After three years at the firm she decided she wanted to start wearing a headscarf at work for religious reasons. She was fired in June 2006 for refusing to take off her scarf. The company said she had broken unwritten rules prohibiting religious symbols.
In the second case, design engineer Asma Bougnaoui was fired from a consultancy firm, Micropole, following a complaint from a customer who claimed his staff had been “embarrassed” by her headscarf while she was on their premises giving advice. Before taking the job she had been told that wearing a headscarf might pose problems for the company’s customers.
In the summer of 2016, dozens of French municipalities banned, with the backing of the French government, bathers from wearing a full-body swimsuit favored by Muslim women that is known as the burkini. While the move, which a French court ruled was unconstitutional, was opposed by many Europeans who believed it violated personal and religious freedoms, it was supported by many others who regarded the burkini and other clothing favored by Muslims as a political statement.
Marine Le Pen, the leading candidate in the presidential race in France, said she would ban all Muslim head-covering gear if she is elected. Asked whether she would do the same for the kippah, she has said that she would do so to preserve equality.