CHIEF HITS OUT AT EU COURT
THE EUROPEAN Union court’s decision that companies can ban employees from wearing religious symbols “will yet further polarise, stoke resentment and cultivate distrust”, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has warned.
On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice ruled that private employers could order staff to remove visible religious symbols under certain conditions.
Rabbi Mirvis said: “This ruling will doubtless embolden those who believe that any public expression of one’s faith is to be deplored, even in cases where that expression does not interfere with the rights of others.”
The ruling came after the court found that a Belgian company which had an internal company policy of banning visible religious and political symbols had been entitled to dismiss an employee who refused to remove her headscarf.
The court stressed that companies would avoid charges of discrimination only if a rule against the display of religious symbols was written into their internal regulations and, importantly, if it applied to symbols across all faiths.
The court said in a statement: “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”
While the decision was made in response to specific cases concerning Islamic headscarves, the fear is that it will now have serious repercussions for European Jews.
Employees who wear kippot or Magen David symbols, for example, could be subject to the new ruling.
Rabbi Mirvis advised: “In my view, the very best businesses, of any size, are those who value the wellbeing of their employees enough to respect their sincerely held religious belief and practice. Those who choose not to afford their workforce even this most basic of rights will be worse off as a result.”
Rabbi Mirvis’s concerns were echoed by the United Synagogue, which said it was “greatly concerned about the possible implication of the judgment on the many Jews who display through wearing kippot or other symbols.”
Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of Euopean Rabbis, who said the EU’s decision “sends signals to all religious groups in Europe”. He said: “With the rise of racially motivated incidents and today’s decision, Europe is sending a clear message: its faith communities are no longer welcome.
“Political leaders need to act to ensure that Europe does not isolate religious minorities and remains a diverse and open continent.”