Today the EU Court ruled that workplaces do indeed have the right to ban employees from wearing the hijab. Employers need to make a case for the mandate – strict religious neutrality among all faiths; customer contact – but private offices (several countries already ban the hijab in public work settings) may fire women who refuse to take them off. And there’s more: This blog has followed Quebec’s public sector hijab ban here. France has been making noise about banning hijabs for girls under a certain age. You get the picture.

It’s useful to keep in mind that while some hijab wearers restrict themselves to a headscarf (of the sort Queen Elizabeth wears when she’s out riding), some wearers include a cloth over the chest and a full-body robe. Their headscarf itself can come pretty close to hiding their face. I mention this because in some cases the garment truly is extreme in its religious veiling of the face and body, indistinguishable from the way American nuns used to dress. However it’s intended, it can be seen as an extremely strong – clerical, really – expression of the derogation of the secular realm. Most people and businesses have no problem with this – UD herself objects only to the burqa, not the hijab – but some do, and while tolerating it is the individual’s obligation, certain businesses with well-grounded objections may now not need to.

So the legal and legislative trend in Europe (and parts of Canada) is clearly toward constraint on the wearing of this modesty-mode; and as always UD notes that you can pant about Islamophobia and discrimination all you want but given the trend you might more wisely spend your time

  1. developing an understanding of the situation not entirely dependent on trashing massive swathes of human populations as bigoted; and
  2. considering taking off the hijab in workplaces that want you to take it off. It doesn’t help the perception that some hijab wearers are insufficiently committed to the secular state (“Secularism is a defined constitutional principle in France and Belgium. This is not the case [for instance] in the UK where the state and religion are intertwined.”) when they announce that they’ll never ever take it off ever, even for work hours. Why not? One does not read articles about men refusing to remove their yamulkes at their place of work if that’s the rule.

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2 Responses to “Off with her headscarf!”

  1. Matt McKeon Says:

    Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act says that employers can’t proscribe religious dress unless it results in “undue hardship” for the employer. An exception is the military, which doesn’t allow yarmulkes or other non-uniform dress.

    I’m not sure what hardship is imposed by a yarmulke in most jobs, or a hijab for that matter.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Matt: I’m talking not about the United States, but EU nations. The EU courts have clearly begun introducing restrictions under certain circumstances on religious dress.

    Hardship, at least in the European case, might, for instance, involve losing business because in a strongly secular state (like France) significant numbers of your clients may turn away because of their objection to religious markers in the public realm.

    “[The regulation] must be interpreted as meaning that a difference in treatment based indirectly on religion or belief within the meaning of this provision may be justified by the employer’s desire to pursue a policy of political, ideological and religious neutrality at work, in order to take into account the wishes of clientele,” the opinion states.

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