Banning of headscarf – not unlawful religious discrimination – European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has held that public service employers can ban the wearing a headscarf despite the religious belief of Muslim women who may then consider themselves ineligible for work.

In Ebrahimian v France, the Court has decided that a hospital employee, dismissed from a position working with members of the public because she insisted on wearing her headscarf , did not suffer a breach of her right to religious freedom under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Most rights under the convention are subject to a balancing provision of justification.  Here the Court held that the principle of secularism and the neutrality of public services justified the interference with the worker’s right to manifest her religious beliefs.

Although this case relied upon France’s espousal of the importance of secularism in its constitution, this decision is likely to have wide ranging effect also in the UK in terms of how employers, both in private and public sector, may dictate what their workers can or cannot wear to work.  The English version of the decision is yet to be published.  Watch this space.

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