On July 15th 2021, the European Court of Justice ruled that workplaces can ban people from wearing visible forms of religious, political or philosophical expression in order to present a “neutral” image.
Visible forms of religious expression are not merely symbolic, in some cases they are an important component of religious practice. Workplaces that elect to ban these forms of expression do not merely ban items of clothing, they can actively prevent people whose religious practice involves visible forms of expression from accessing the workplace. Potentially excluded groups include Orthodox Jews who wear the kippah, payot, or who cover their hair with a wig, scarf or hat, nuns and monks who wear religious habits, Muslim women who cover their hair with a scarf and Sikh men who wear turbans.
Of those potentially affected, women whose religious practices involve covering their hair are most likely to be impacted. Covering the hair does not impede our ability to identify a person nor to interact with them, and various head coverings constitute professional attire. There are a number of reasons why women might choose to cover their hair and regardless of whether it is a religious practice or because a woman is undergoing chemotherapy, we believe women have the right to bodily autonomy. We question the legitimacy of the European Union’s decision to take this choice away from women and to transfer it to individual employers.
While various groups of people might be affected by the banning of visible forms of religious, political or philosophical expression, such bans have almost exclusively been implemented against Muslim women. The number of incidents concerning Muslim women being banned from the workplace for wearing a headscarf has increased in recent years with cases being brought before courts in France, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere in the EU. This coincides with a well-documented rise in anti-Islamic sentiment throughout Europe. With employers now able to implement bans of visible forms of religious expression for “objective” reasons such as “damage to the business caused by customer complaints” or “jeopardising company peace”, we believe the ruling has legitimised religious discrimination.
With this in mind, and contrary to the ECJ’s opinion that banning visible forms of religious expression can achieve “neutrality”, we argue that such gestures are inherently value-laden and an affront to diversity, gender equality and integration. We invite you to join us on 31.07.21 at 13:00, Brandenburger Tor to send a message to our European leaders that we reject divisive politics and do not support workplaces that elect to implement such bans. Let us instead celebrate our diversity, our differences, and create a Europe of which we can all be proud.
Demonstration – Protest Against New EU Ruling Which Allows Workplaces to Ban Visible Forms of Religious Expression. Saturday, 31st July, 1pm at Brandenburger Tor