This is a published article. The original article can be found here.

There has been much hysteria following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that has ruled that employers will be entitled to ban staff from wearing any visible political or religious symbols in the workplace.

Though the ban is being hailed as a direct attack on Muslims, the ECJ has said that the ban does not result in “direct discrimination” and that giving companies the right to ban “any political, philosophical or religious sign” is simply providing them the opportunity to maintain a neutral image.

Though the ruling does not single out the Muslim faith, it is true that it was based on the cases of two Muslim women, in France and Belgium, who were dismissed from their workplaces for refusing to remove their headscarves.

While the ruling itself may have been a genuine attempt to calm growing religious tensions in Europe, it creates more problems than it solves and will ultimately give rise to more friction.
First and foremost, this ban appears to be in direct contrast with Article 18 of the Human Rights Charter which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The freedom of expression, whether that manifests in the form of a controversial speaker, a satirical magazine such as Charlie Hebdo, or donning a headscarf as a symbol of your religious conviction, is a cornerstone of Western society. To restrict this freedom in the name of a more ‘Western’ or ‘liberal’ society is a dismaying oxymoron and an ominous sign if it is any reflection of the nature of solutions in the future.

Furthermore, this ban will directly affect working Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab. Surely, these women should not be obstructed? These women should be embraced for having a faith that does not impede them. Such women have chosen to take an active part in society and are positive role models for other Muslim women. Taking away this prospect will force these women to choose between their faith and their financial independence. Many of these women will favour the former and this will in turn lead to more women out of the workforce, worsening integration issues, leading to more financially dependent Muslim women, and weakening their already undermined position in Western society and globally.

What European leaders need to understand is that secularism should not be used as a tool to castigate expressions of religious belief and observance. Quite the contrary, secularism should be implemented and interpreted as a principle that protects the exercise of religious freedom. A secular state should be neutral on matters of belief, not seeking to nullify religion from the public sphere. Moreover, what this hostility towards religious symbols shows is a weak secular society, one that resorts to bans and prohibitions rather than the promotion of freedom of expression.

With growing anti-Muslim sentiment and a rise in xenophobic bigotry, now is a precarious time for Muslims living in the West. The ECJ ruling will likely result in increased friction and heightened social tensions in European society in a time where faith and its practice has turned into an exceptionally sensitive issue. Western liberals have long criticised, and rightly so, many Muslim nations that fall short of giving their minorities equal rights. Why then does the irony miss the ECJ as they move to deny these rights to the minorities residing in Europe?

Moreover, what this hostility towards religious symbols shows is a insecure secular society, one that resorts to bans and prohibitions rather than the promotion of freedom of expression.

3 thoughts on “The EU Court Hijab Ban Is Invasive And Insecure Secularism – Adam Deen

  1. J.Jamieson says:

    Thank you so much in giving the origins of the hijab. It’s hilarious and should be spread worldwide! I have a photo of women and men mingling in the 1970’s at Cairo university and there wasn’t a single Hijab to be seen! All of the dozens of women in the photo had normal hairstyles and western clothing.( skirts and blouses.) Now, on the same campus, you see almost all of the women wearing hijabs! The hijab causes bald spots and extreme discomfort. Once you have bald spots, you then have to continue wearing the hijab to hide the them. The Hijab signals militancy and female oppression,..and it is intimidating to non-muslim females to be exposed to women wearing them. It feels threatening…like they live in another, scary, culture. If the muslim men think it’s so important to ‘ show observancy’ then I suggest that they wear the hijabs. It’s a mistake to believe muslim women who say that it is their choice to wear them. This false. They face extreme social pressures to comply and will certainly be shunned or even killed by their male relatives. The male’s honour is attained from the female’s honour. Therefore he guards her honour religiously because his honour in the community depends on it. The original purpose of the hijab was to cover the woman’s hair because it is considered part of her sexual attraction. and everything sexual about her is supposed to be for the exclusive benefit of the husband. Why isn’t it ever mentioned…there have been many documentaries made…about the dowries that muslim men must pay to the bride’s father. Therefor, she is ‘ goods’. Her cash value remains high to the father only as long as she appears pious ( wearing a hijab and even face covering, ) and of course SHE MUST BE A VIRGIN when married. There is a marital blood spillage test taken on the bedsheets on the marriage night. If there is blood, there is a celebration that the groom got his money’s worth and her family’s honour is intact.

  2. Roy Leon says:

    I am at a loss to understand the desire to wear the hijab on religious grounds. Was it not the Iranian mulla Mussa Sadr who did not invent the hijab until the early 1970’s…
    I read that in 1981 Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr , The first president of the Islamic State of Iran announced that …
    Scientific research has shown that women’s hair emitted rays that drove men insane….!!!! Well well who would have thought it. He didn’t divulge the source of his scientific research but then he didn’t need to. He was after all the supreme leader of the country and it’s religious thinking.
    I suppose that answers the question why so many middle eastern refugees feel the need to rape European women when they get to the West.

  3. atalanta says:

    There is a fundamental misunderstanding about freedom of expression here.

    Freedom of expression prevents the *state* from restricting speech, not private actors. None of us has freedom of expression *at work*. If I work in a supermarket, and announce over the tannoy that customers would do better to shop elsewhere, I can be fired. Indeed it is a basic liberal principle that we *don’t* have freedom of expression at work, since that would place excessive constraints on the employer’s freedom to conduct business. Essentially, in a liberal society, employers can restrict freedom of expression for the same reason that your mum restricts it around the dinner table: their house, their rules. Demanding absolute freedom of expression at work is a coherent position, but it isn’t a liberal one, and is rather a radical one which would dramatically limit freedom of contract.

    Liberal legal systems do, however, generally create some narrow, limited rights to self-expression at work where there are exceptional justifications for overriding the employer’s freedom. Regarding freedom of religion, absolute protection at work exists only in relation to *having* a particular faith. All *manifestations* of faith enjoy only very limited protection *at work* (as opposed to in the public sphere). Employers can impede the manifestation of religion by staff provided that is a *proportionate* means of achieving a *legitimate* business aim. If I proselytise to customers, I can be fired. If I refuse to serve pork in a supermarket, I can be fired. If I refuse to marry same-sex couples, I can be fired. And if I want to wear a cross on a dangling chain that presents a safety hazard, I can be fired.

    Three questions then arise in these ECJ headscarf cases, the first two of which were decided in an unsurprising way:
    – what was the employer’s aim? In Achbita, this was found to be to create a uniform appearance for customer-facing staff. In Bougnaoui, it seems to have been to please customers.
    – was this a legitimate aim? The ECJ here has followed established ECHR practice in agreeing that the aim in Achbita was legitimate. In Bougnaoui, they held that appeasing customers’ religious prejudices was *not* a legitimate aim, and told the domestic court to untangle the case.
    – were the employers’ actions proportionate to their aim? Here the ECJ has decided differently from ECHR precedent (e.g. Eweida v UK) in holding that banning the wearing of a religious symbol was proportionate in Achbita.

    There is no question that this third point a huge decision by the ECJ, with very significant implications, and that it represents a significant departure from ECHR decisions. But bringing in freedom of expression is a basic misunderstanding of liberal legal systems and undermines your argument.

    It is inconceivable that a liberal court would ever hold that it is *not* a legitimate aim for the *customer-facing* staff of a business to project a neutral image. The liberal question, therefore, is whether it is *proportionate* to therefore ban customer-facing staff from wearing any religious symbols. I agree with you that it isn’t, and that religious symbols should be permitted unless they pose a safety hazard. In a liberal society, we already know that individuals have different faiths and none, and it is therefore disproportionate to require staff not to manifest the bare fact of their belief at work. A similar case will likely go to the ECtHR at some point and may lead to a stand-off between the EU courts and the Convention courts; one might expect the ECtHR to win such a stand-off, since it should be the final arbiter on the meaning of the ECHR.

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