European Union Hijab Ban

In recent years, the European Union has served as a global leader in protecting and promoting the human rights and freedoms fundamental to democracy, including equality and diversity. The EU has been at the forefront of an important effort to combat discrimination, raise awareness, and take action to ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment regardless of race and ethnic origin, gender, religion or disbelief, ability, age, or sexual orientation.

In light of Europe’s many accomplishments in upholding equality, the judgment made on July 15, 2021 is disappointing – and alarming. The simple act of wearing a headscarf, cross necklace, yarmulke, or kippah within the workplace epitomizes an individual’s right to display their respective religious belief in public. Denying employees the freedom to express their religious tradition and background during the workday stands in direct contradiction to democratic ideals championed by the EU – human dignity, freedom, and equality.

Facts of the Case

Two employees at a daycare center (WABE) – a Muslim woman working as a special needs carer and an employee wearing a cross necklace, along with a Muslim woman employed by Müller as a sales assistant and cashier – were asked to remove “any visible sign of political, ideological or religious beliefs” that might compromise the neutrality of their respective workplaces. The Muslim employee at WABE was suspended and the Muslim employee at Müller was sent home for not doing so.
The employees brought their stories before a court, charging discrimination.
The case made its way to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Court sided with the employers, ruling that WABE and Müller were justified and may restrict political, ideological, and religious attire as they deem fit. The Court said that restrictions by companies were appropriate if a company could adequately demonstrate the need to maintain an entirely neutral image.

Religious Freedom + The EU’s Decision

Religious freedom is extensively outlined in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, both of which were cited in the court’s decision. The former declares the exercise of religious belief in public and private as a fundamental right, and the latter highlights the importance of equality and protection against discrimination.

The EU’s foundational principles and chartered United Nations conventions support the importance of religious expression. However, their recent actions directly contradict their core values and guiding principles. Religious freedom is critical to sustaining any democracy. When all people – regardless of the way they choose to worship and believe – are given the freedom of religion, social harmony, order, and civic engagement thrives. When all individuals are respected, protected, and served by their representatives, democracy takes place. When the few are stripped of the rights that are guaranteed to all, democracy and society deteriorate.