Top EU court rules employers can ban religious symbols in workplaces

Decision spurs protest from Muslim and Jewish groups, with senior rabbi saying it primarily targets Muslims but that effects will be felt by Jews as well

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Illustrative photo of Hijabs at a market place. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)
Illustrative photo of Hijabs at a market place. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

JTA — Employers may forbid workers from wearing religious clothes or symbols on the job, a top European Union court ruled, spurring protest by Muslin and Jewish groups.

The ruling last month by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg “is a step backwards from religious freedoms,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Friday. Its full text was published last week.

The decision, which reaffirms and expands on a 2017 ruling by the same tribunal, was on claims by two Muslim women in Germany whose employers banned them from wearing headscarves to work. They sued their employers — a German court referred the case to the EU court based on the precedent.

“This is basically a ruling that says it’s OK for employers to tell Muslim women not to wear headscarves, but the implications are broader and extend to Jewish women, Jewish men wearing a kippah and Christians wearing a cross pendant,” Goldschmidt said.

The rabbi said that he was not aware of current work disputes of this kind involving Jews.

In its ruling, the court cited the need to preserve an atmosphere of “neutrality” in the workplace, adding that any workplace ban must correspond to a genuine “need” by employers.

Many advocates of steps to limit the wearing of religious symbols in public argue it is designed as a response to political Islam.

IGMG, an organization in Germany for people of Turkish descent, criticized the ruling as “unconstitutional.”

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