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EU Court Rules Muslim Women Can Be Fired For Hijab

Recent headlines have delivered the terrible news that the highest EU court ruled that it is okay to fire women for wearing the headscarf if it interferes with the ability of the workplace to create an environment that is “neutral” which is supposedly non-religious, or non-partisan, or secular.

An article from Human Rights Watch rightly states that “Muslim women shouldn’t have to choose between their faith and their jobs.” The article also points out that the exertion of legal control over women’s bodies is growing at an alarming rate in multiple ways in Europe, including the bans on face veils in France, the widespread legislation against the Muslim headscarf in general, as well as the almost total ban on legal abortion in Poland.

a battleground all over the world, both in Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries alike.  The idea that the courts can dictate these issues is a profound restriction of the human rights of all women, and tremendously concerning.

Muslim women continue to speak out about the problems with the idea that what women wear, as well as our overall rights to our bodies, continues to be a battleground all over the world, both in Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries alike.  The idea that the courts can dictate these issues is a profound restriction of the human rights of all women, and tremendously concerning. People should have the right to control their personal and private space and the continued and insidious invasion of women’s freedom around issues of birth control, abortion specifically, and religious dress is a warning sign for the global trends towards restricting human rights.

The EU ruling was covered in most major news outlets around the world with varying degrees of concern and criticism.  Turkey’s Foreign Ministry specifically issued a condemnation of the ruling, stating it will contribute to rising racism and Islamophobia in Europe.

The precise wording of the ruling admits to the idea that the ban on religious dress could be discriminatory, but states that in the interest of preventing “social disputes” it could be justified.  There is a huge problem with this logic for a variety of reasons, one of which is the selection of which social disputes justify discrimination and which do not.  Clearly for the EU the right to discriminate against Muslims does not contribute in their eyes to “social disputes” and thus is a reasonable solution to the racist and Islamophobic needs of customers which they prioritize over the rights of the employees.

The precise wording of the ruling admits to the idea that the ban on religious dress could be discriminatory, but states that in the interest of preventing “social disputes” it could be justified. There is a huge problem with this logic for a variety of reasons, one of which is the selection of which social disputes justify discrimination and which do not.

While the coverage on the ban is reassuring, it is not enough.  The dire need for the global push back against discrimination and the need to work globally for all forms of human rights continues to be a top priority for those of us who love and value our individual and collective freedom.  Given the history of Europe and religious discrimination, it is also a dire need for those of us who value peace. The conflicts between the Muslim world and Europe, China, and India around issues of religious freedom continue to cost Muslims their jobs, and in the case of Kashmir and the Uyghur, their lives. The disturbing echoes of the holocaust throughout the world right now should be enough to scare all of us into action. 

Unfortunately a call to action is the opposite of what this court and many others in the EU have done in response to the rising far-right extremism and neo-Nazism that is rapidly increasing in Europe.  The rise in violent extremism in Germany prompted a new PBS documentary that talks about the problem.  With the growing movement to label white supremacy and far-right violence as terrorism, it is to be hoped that perhaps progress will be made but for the time being, the courts such as this one are contributing to the problem, not helping to solve it.

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Sarah is a social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area with at-risk and homeless youth. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God.