European Headscarf Ruling Sets Bleak Standard


In a shocking result, the High European Union ruled against two plaintiffs this week defending their right to wear headscarves at their places of work. The decision was made Tuesday in the European Court of Justice after two women, one French and one Belgian, had been fired from their jobs due to issues surrounding their Islamic headscarves.

While the means for dismissal varied slightly between the two cases, the issue was very similar as it dealt with company appearance and public perception. France’s Asma Bougnaoui was dismissed from her job as a design engineer due to a customer complaint surrounding her headscarf. An article from The Canadian Press notes that this may not be enough for dismissal and could be overturned later. As for Belgium’s Samira Achbita however, who was fired from her security firm for not complying to the dress-code, her verdict was not as promising.

According to ­The Canadian Press article, the European Court of Justice’s decision states, “Private businesses in Europe can forbid Muslim women in their employ from wearing headscarves if the ban is part of policy of neutrality within the company and not a sign of prejudice against a particular religion.”

Thus, the issue raised here deals with where the line in the sand will be drawn. As Bougnaoui’s lawyer Claire Waquet pointed out following the verdict, this decision might spark a snowball effect in many privately-owned businesses spanning the European Union. Waquet suggests that if there was any hesitation about the legality of implementing these rules in the workplace before, there definitely won’t be anymore.

Issues surrounding Muslim headscarves have been appearing in the news more and more in recent years; while Europe has been a focal point, they are not alone in their fair share of controversy. Across the pond, Canada faced a similar issue just a few years prior. In 2015, Stephen Harper’s conservative government was in hot water for their stance on Muslim women wearing a niqab during their oath of citizenship.

In a statement to the Canadian House of Commons, Harper said that “most Canadians believe that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family.” According to Harper, this was a stance in support of women, arguing the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women,” but with official oppositions against him, it was apparent he stood seemingly alone.

Evidently, this issue has touched all corners of the world, and the general public response is in support of those defending their right to practice their religion. Looking at both of these incidents, it would appear this push to completely ban something such as a niqab or hijab will never go over smoothly. Provisions towards these kinds of motions are essential if they are ever going to be accepted by the public because they are dealing with the fundamental right to peacefully practice one’s religion; a right we should all have.

While the ruling on the two cases this week is not ideal, there is still a chance for a different result when they’re taken up again in the two national courts of their respective countries. The proceedings and results from those trials are eagerly anticipated but will occur at a later date.

Wyatt Lang