In its latest ruling on a long-standing European dispute, the highest court of the European Union issued this Tuesday, affirming that public authorities in member states may forbid employees from donning religious symbols (e.g., an Islamic head veil).
The EU court says that public workers may be unable to wear head scarves. The matter was brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) after an employee of the municipality of Ans in eastern Belgium was prohibited from donning an Islamic head covering while on duty.
Subsequently, the municipality’s employment conditions were amended to mandate that all staff adhere to a strict code of neutrality, refraining from the display of explicit religious or ideological symbols.
The woman in question initiated legal proceedings, alleging that her freedom of religion had been violated.
For numerous years, the hijab, the customary head covering draped over the shoulders and head, has been a source of contention throughout Europe.
A policy of strict neutrality intended to establish a neutral administrative environment may be considered objectively justified by a legitimate purpose, according to the CJEU. Furthermore, it was stated that another public administration would be justified in banning visible signs of belief broadly and indiscriminately.
The court ruled that member state authorities were permitted some latitude in determining the degree of neutrality in public service provision they wished to advance. The court stated, however, that this objective must be pursued methodically and consistently and that measures must be restricted to what is strictly necessary.
A national court was responsible for ensuring compliance with these requirements.