The Church of England has issued the following statement on the recent CJEU ruling on which we reported earlier.
Response to ECJ Ruling on Headscarves
In response to the ruling of the European Court of Justice on the wearing of headscarves a Church of England spokesman said:
“This ruling raises significant questions about freedom of religion and its free expression. Whether it be Sikhism and the wearing of turbans and kara through to the wearing of a cross.
“In preferencing ‘freedom to conduct a business” above the free expression of faith the ruling potentially places corporate interest above those of the individual.
Equally troubling is the assumption of “neutrality” within the ruling. The imposition of blanket bans – whilst often seeking honourable outcomes – may represent a worldview based on dogmatic or ideological assumptions which may unjustly limit individual rights.”
The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, said:
“It is important that we study this ruling in more detail and work out its implications in different scenarios and for different groups in society. Inevitably, this judgement once again raises vital questions about freedom of expression (not just freedom of religion), and shows that the denial of freedom of religion is not a neutral act, contrary to how it might be portrayed. There is no neutral space. Furthermore, it illustrates how far we have to go as a secular society in working out what freedom of expression actually means.
“Secondly, it once again illustrates the problem in a ‘rights culture’ of whose rights take priority in the hierarchy when rights collide – and according to which criteria they should be judged.
“There is clearly more work to be done in relation to religious literacy.”
Before I read this statement, I was also troubled, when reading the earlier post here, with the assumptions that “neutrality” was possible and could be a desirable business objective, which was found within both the rulings. I think that employers might need dress codes, for various reasons, and perhaps even to issue uniforms. But I do not see that a dress code requiring dress that is “neutral” is necessary, or that an outfit reminding one of a certain faith community per se has to be thought of as a bad thing.
I can imagine an employer not wanting female staff to wear burkas, which I think are downright antisocial. But ordinary headscarves? Are these even Islamic? All sorts of women wear these, for all sorts of reasons. Who would notice this, and make an issue of it?
It wasn’t an employer or court who brought the case but a religiously motivated employee. She was hired to work in a security capacity by G4S in a public-facing position. She had worked without a headscarf for 3 years and only later insisted on her religious right to wear a headscarf. She could have been banned from wearing religious headgear on the grounds of health and safety, in particular her own health and safety, which her employer had a legal duty to consider.
This is not a matter of religious literacy but one of simple common sense. Once again, the CofE is trying to foster a fake image of religious persecution. Don’t they know that most people find them ridiculous (i.e. worthy of ridicule)?
What was the health & safety point in Achbita or Bougnaoui? Neither judgment mentioned the issue.
You are right.
They could – and should – have done, especially as the employee was employed by G4S.