This isn’t the headline in most of the UK media, for some reason, which appears to prefer singling out Muslims and hijabs. There’s nothing quite like a bit of Islamomania in a morning to go with your toast and marmalade, is there? ‘Top EU court adviser backs workplace Muslim headscarf ban‘, says the BBC. ‘EU’s top judge backs workplace ban on headscarves‘, writes the Independent. ‘Senior EU lawyer backs workplace ban on Muslim headscarves‘, proclaims the Guardian., above a picture of Muslim women wearing sky-blue burqas (which the Guardian calls a ‘headscarf’) emblazoned with the stars of the EU flag. ‘Top European Union court adviser says employers should be allowed to ban Islamic headscarves‘, says the Evening Standard, while the Express goes with: ‘Bosses can ban Muslims wearing headscarves at work‘.
It’s left to the Telegraph to take a more equitable and accurate approach to headlines: ‘Bosses can ban headscarves and crucifixes, EU judge says‘, they write (noting that ‘crucifix’ sounds a bit meatier than ‘cross’ in the spectrum of hallowed bling). But even this doesn’t extend to kippahs, tichels, turbans or karas. Why not just say: ‘Bosses can ban religious clothing and jewellery in the workplace’? Or does that leave hanging the fuzzy question of facial hair? Should hirsute tendencies be exempt? If so, why?
The legal opinion (HERE in full) was issued by Juliane Kokott, an Advocate General to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in response to clarification sought by a Belgian court on what precisely is banned under anti-discrimination laws, following the dismissal of a receptionist who refused her employer’s request not to wear her hijab at work.
Samira Achbita worked for G4S, a Belgian security company. She claimed the ban on her wearing a hijab amounted to discrimination on the grounds of her religion, especially since the company had no written dress-code policy asserting any kind of ‘neutrality’. The opinion issued by Juliane Kokott is that such a ban is not discriminatory, provided that the employer prohibits all employees from wearing any articles of religious clothing or other visible symbols. This seems such an obvious argument that it hardly needs a 14,000-word legal opinion to make it. The point is that a ban on wearing a hijab in the workplace may be admissible if the ban is based on a general company rule to ensure “religious and ideological neutrality”: if no religious symbols are permitted, the ethos becomes one of political, religious and philosophical non-expression.
The ECJ will now consider what final guidance to issue, and whether the legal anti-discrimination principle trumps the freedom of religion enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. After all, if everyone has “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, and that right includes the “freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance”, how can that manifestation practically extend to the public realm but not to the place of employment? Will a Muslim woman walk along the street in a hijab but be required to remove it as she enters through her workplace door? Will a Sikh gentleman be required to unravel his turban and shave on the pavement? We’re not talking about those cases where religious clothing may present an obvious endangerment to health and safety, such as hygiene in hospitals: this is about benign practice and observance. You can see millions of euros now heading toward lawyers’ coffers as they argue whether hijabs, turbans and beards are mandatory observances, while crosses and crucifixes are nothing but expendable trinkets.
But Advocate General Kokkot offers an interesting comparative point:
While an employee cannot ‘leave’ his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability ‘at the door’ upon entering his employer’s premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace, be this in relation to religious practices, religiously motivated behaviour or (as in the present case) his clothing.
Setting aside the contentious science/religion nature/nurture dispute over whether sexual orientation is innate and fixed or moral choice and mutable, is she saying that a Sikh may not wear a kara, and a Muslim may not wear a hijab, but a gay person may wear (say) a rainbow bracelet, pink-power T-shirts or a Terence Higgins Trust lapel badge? If “discrimination may be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality”, why does that extend only to religious clothing and jewellery? In order to ban hijabs, is an employer not also obliged to ban the wearing of poppies or ‘end-cancer-now’ advocacy jewellery? Surely a ban founded on a general rule must be applied generally? If employers are no longer to be required to show flexibility in matters of political or philosophical expression, or in religious manifestation, why should they tolerate any employee who manifests or expresses anything political, philosophical or religious which contravenes the ‘neutrality’ (which is no neutrality at all) of the secular, apolitical, amoral workplace?
And what if religious belief is no more a matter of choice than sex, ethnicity or sexuality? There is a considerable body of evidence in the field of cognitive science which suggests that the propensity toward religious belief may be genetic and inescapable. This being so, the mandatory demand to renounce or deny a cultural manifestation of that innate belief becomes an offence to identity and diversity.
Juliane Kokott’s legal opinion is not binding on the ECJ, but the Court does tend to take such opinions very seriously and rule in accordance with them. It certainly gives an indication of how the EU’s supreme court will rule in similar cases from now on, which ought not to surprise us: indeed, it ought to spur us on toward ever-further Brexit. How long before the Established Church is ruled discriminatory? How long before the Monarch’s Coronation Oath is ruled inequitable? How long before Bibles are banned from state schools under the guise of political, philosophical and religious ‘neutrality’?
The EU is a product of secular Enlightenment idealism. It is becoming aggressively anti-Christian because it is pathologically anti-religious, under the guise of rationalism and an assertion of the necessary truths of reason. It is intolerant of the Cross of Christ and the Star of David because it cannot brook any revelation which might challenge its infallible and immutable creeds. Human rights and equality and are its archai kai exousiai. In order to guard the European Union from Islamification, it has to eradicate the residues of Christendom, for that is equitable and ‘neutral’. If we remain subject to its legal authority, we will witness a prohibition upon Christians not to worship in private, for that is guaranteed by the Charter, but to walk in spirit and in truth, for the gospel is a scandal and the Cross an offence.
While politicians wrangle over issues of economics and hypnotise us with how the merchants of the earth may or may not trade, we are being taken captive by judicial activism. The prophetic vision is blurred by the political reality. The EU is no community of faith: it is no home to Christian values or sacred virtues. Vote to remain on 23rd June, and it will mean the end of centuries of hard-won rights and incrementally-gained liberties. The witness of history cries out.