Europe has been having a long-lasting battle with trying to minimise discrimination based on one’s religion. However, the implementations of the principle undermine the principles of some of the biggest religions followed.
In France, public education bans wearing religious symbols; that includes hijab for Muslim women and turban for Sikh men and the Jewish kippa. In August, the education minister of France also banned abaya; long, loose piece of clothing. It is not a religious symbol of Islam but aligns with modesty with the freedom of right to express. These rules also extend to public workplaces which limit the religious individuals’ right to work and causes discrimination to work at certain places while trying to prevent discrimination within the workplace.
The topic of hijab was raised in the court after a woman was rejected to continue her work as the head of an office in the municipality in eastern Belgium. The law mentions that rejection to remove the hijab can be used as a reason to fire the individual. The court of justice of the European Union indicated the power given to the private sector to limit the religious expressions, when it is needed, or when they want to show neutrality to the customers and do not show indications of the worker’s religious beliefs.
While the ruling is aimed to highlight the neutrality of the workplaces from any religious, political, or philosophical point of views that one may have; it is not inclusive of religions that include public expression and that causes them to choose between their faith and work. This is mainly seen to have effects on Muslim women in Europe that wear the headscarf, but it should be seen as a treat to limit other faiths that include expression in public sphere. Therefore, more intersectional consideration in the policy-making is required to make sure individuals are not made to choose between their rights to express and practice their religious beliefs or their right to work.
As Rights Defenders, we state no one should be made to choose between their human rights, all should be exercised by the citizens and provided by the government.