Concern over EU court ruling on religious symbols

The European Union Court of Justice says a Belgian company that told an employee to remove her headscarf was not guilty of discrimination. It's a decision that has implications for all faiths


Concern has been voiced after the European Union’s top court ruled that companies can ban employees from wearing religious symbols.

In a landmark decision on Tuesday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said private employers could order staff to remove visible religious symbols under certain conditions.

The ruling came after the court found that a Belgian company which had an internal company policy of banning visible religious and political symbols had been entitled to dismiss an employee who refused to remove her headscarf.

The court stressed that companies would avoid charges of discrimination only if a rule against the display of religious symbols was written into their internal regulations and, importantly, if it applied to  symbols across all faiths.

The court said in a statement: “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”

In the same ruling, the court found that a French company had unlawfully dismissed an employee for refusing to remove her headscarf because a client objected, rather than because of pre-stated terms of employment.

While the decision was made in response to specific cases concerning Islamic headscarves, the fear is that it will now have serious repercussions for European Jews.

Employees who wear kipot or Magen David symbols, for example, could be subject to new ruling. 

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of Euopean Rabbis, said the EU’s decision “sends signals to all religious groups in Europe”.

He said: “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.”

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