European Union's Top Court Upholds Ban On Visible Religious Signs Including Headscarf In Public Workplace

Bhuvan Krishna

Nov 29, 2023, 07:00 PM | Updated 07:00 PM IST

European Union flag. (Flickr/Bankenverband - Bundesve)
European Union flag. (Flickr/Bankenverband - Bundesve)

The top court of the European Union ruled on Tuesday (28 November) that a public administration has the authority to prohibit staff from visibly displaying signs of "philosophical or religious beliefs" to maintain a "neutral administrative environment," as reported by Politico.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) clarified that national courts must assess whether such measures align with the freedom of religion while serving the legitimate objectives of the prohibition according to a report from TOI.

The CJEU stated, "In order to put in place an entirely neutral administrative environment, a public administration may prohibit the visible wearing in the workplace of any sign revealing philosophical or religious beliefs."

The court emphasised that such a rule is not discriminatory if applied uniformly to all staff members and is restricted to what is essential.

The ruling stems from a case in Belgium where a woman from the municipality of Ans contested a local court's decision prohibiting her from wearing an Islamic headscarf at work.

She argued that her freedom of religion was violated, and she faced discrimination.

Following the headscarf prohibition, the municipality amended its employment terms, extending the ban to all overt signs of ideological or religious affiliation for all employees.

A court in Liege sought clarification from the CJEU on whether the strict neutrality rule imposed by the municipality amounted to discrimination under EU law.

The CJEU acknowledged that the rule could be objectively justified by a legitimate aim, but it also indicated that an opposing policy allowing religious symbols would also be justifiable.

The court highlighted that each member state, within its competences, has discretion in designing workplace neutrality in the public service.

However, the pursuit of this objective must be consistent and systematic, with measures limited to what is strictly necessary.

The CJEU specified that it is the responsibility of national courts to verify compliance with these requirements.

Bhuvan Krishna is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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