Freedom of belief is one of the leading indicators of the democracy level in Europe

girl dressing the hijab

There’s no doubt that the freedom of dress is a characteristic trait, and actually the most obvious, of personal identity, which manifests as the “right to be oneself”. The European opinion is the same: “religious dimension it is one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life [6] so “constraints imposed on a person’s choice of mode of dress constitute an interference with private life as ensured by Article 8(1) of the Convention”.

With regard to laws prohibiting the veil in public, however, States are almost always absolved by the ECHR […] Among other things, this means admitting varying national versions of democracy.

[…] only at first glance is the ban neutral, because although it applies to everyone, including Christians and people who aren’t religious, in practice it creates discrimination against not them, but Muslim women (as well as Jews wearing the kippah or sikhs wearing turbans.) This is obvious and needs no demonstration, but the Court nonetheless places the burden of proof on national courts, thus legitimising disparity between the interpretations of States of the Union on a fundamental right of European citizens.

The rules may on paper be the same for everyone, but actually place restrictions on just certain workers. This perpetuates the model that Portalis complained of two centuries ago, in which everyone is free to sleep under the bridges of the River Seine, but only the vagabonds of Paris actually do. Indirect discrimination lies in the facts and is not at all balanced or justified by the formulaic distinctions of the Court, which once again ends up considering people as uti mercatores e non uti cives.

Wearing the hijab, which is just a scarf, and not the burka or the niqab, is a fundamental right that should not be restricted unless it causes irreparable damage to the image, finances or policies of a company: behind every hijab is a woman with a story – a gender, a religion, a culture and basically an identity –, which the court of a union of rights should not allow companies to demean.

In order to hold back, if not to reverse, this dystopic trend the defence of the freedom of belief goes on being one of the leading indicators of the guarantees level in Europe."

These were the words of Professor Nicola Colaianni, former Judge of the Suprem Court of Cassation, in his speech at the international conference Law and Freedom of Belief in Europe, an arduous journey.

However, now the Supreme Court of the European Union has ruled that member states may prohibit their employees from wearing religious symbols. Below is an article announcing the decision of the Supreme Court of the European Union.

EU states can ban religious symbols in public workplaces

The top European Union court has ruled that member states can prohibit their employees from wearing signs of religious belief.

By Lipika Pelham — (29.11.2023) The Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling came after a Belgian woman alleged the local municipality where she worked had infringed her religious freedom by telling her she couldn't wear a hijab.

The court added such measures must be limited to what is strictly necessary.

The issue of the Islamic headscarf has divided Europe for years.

In 2021 the court ruled that women could be fired from their jobs for refusing to remove their hijab if they work in a job that deals with the public.

The latest case arrived at the 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 head of an office and is not in a public-facing role, launched a legal challenge.

The municipality then amended its terms of employment, saying they required employees to observe strict neutrality, which means any form of proselytising is prohibited and the wearing of overt signs of ideological or religious affiliation is not allowed for any worker.

Hearing the case, the Labour Court in Liège said it was uncertain whether the condition of strict neutrality imposed by the municipality gave rise to discrimination contrary to EU law.

The ECJ answered that the authorities in member states had a margin of discretion to designate the degree of neutrality they want to promote.

It added that another public administration would be justified if it decided to authorise 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 "conspicuous" religious symbols were banned in state schools in 2004.

In August France's Education Minister Gabriel Attal said state school pupils would be banned from wearing abayas, loose-fitting full-length robes worn by some Muslim women.

The garment had been increasingly worn in schools leading to a political divide over them, with right-wing parties pushing for a ban while those on the left voicing concerns for the rights of Muslim women and girls.