EU may ban religious symbols in public workplaces
The European Union's top court has ruled that member states can ban their employees from wearing symbols of religious faith.
The Islamic headscarf issue has divided Europe for years.
In 2021, the court ruled that women can be fired for refusing to remove their hijab if they work in a public-facing job.
The latest case came to court after a Muslim employee of the eastern Belgian municipality of Ans was told she could not wear a headscarf at work. The woman, who works as an office manager and is not in a public role, launched a legal challenge.
The municipality subsequently changed its terms of employment, saying that they required employees to observe strict neutrality, meaning that clothing that is visible of ideological or religious affiliation is not permitted for any worker.
The Labor Court in Liège said it was uncertain whether the strict neutrality condition imposed by the municipality caused discrimination in breach of EU law.
The Supreme Court responded that authorities in member states had a discretion to determine the degree of neutrality they wanted to promote. It also added that another public administration would be justified if it decided to authorize the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs.
France has a strict ban on religious signs in state schools and government buildings, arguing that they violate secular laws. The headscarf and other "visible" religious symbols were banned in state schools in 2004.
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