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European Court Ruling Setback For Tolerance

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‘It will worsen relations between Muslim communities and the authorities,” former Guardian editor says

A ruling by the European Court of Justice that allows employers to prevent workers from wearing religious symbols, including headscarves worn by Muslim women, will fuel Islamophobia, author Victoria Brittain told Anadolu Agency on Friday.

The decision is a “setback for tolerance in Europe,” according to the former editor of The Guardian newspaper.

“Although it bans all religious symbols, such as a jewish kappa or Sikh turban it is the Muslim headscarf which will be most obviously impacted,” Brittain said in a statement emailed to Anadolu Agency. “And in the current climate in Europe where far right parties are calling for a ban on the headscarf and partial bans exist in France and Austria already, it will worsen relations between Muslim communities and the authorities.” 

The reaction is the latest in the U.K. to the court’s decision earlier this week that has drawn sharp criticism.

The judgment came Tuesday in the cases of two women in France and Belgium that dated to 2008 and 2003, respectively. The women were fired for refusing to remove their hijabs at work.

“It is a sad day for justice and equality,” according to the Muslim Council of Britain.

“At a time when populism and bigotry are at an all-time high, we fear that this ruling will serve as a green light to those wishing to normalize discrimination against faith communities,” it said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is a backward step which people of all faiths and none should speak out against,” it added.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament on the same day that the U.K. has a “strong tradition … of freedom of expression,” speaking in defense of women’s rights.

“It is the right of all women to choose how they dress and we don't intend to legislate on this issue,” she said, and “it is not for government to tell women what they can and cannot wear, and we want to continue that strong tradition of freedom of expression," May told lawmakers. She did not signal any intention to change the U.K.’s practices.

An independent body safeguarding and enforcing laws that protect rights to fairness, dignity and respect also was critical of the court's decision.

“This Court of Justice ruling does not mean businesses can target women wearing the hijab for dismissal, or introduce policies which ban religious dress from customer-facing roles,” said the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a statement

“We believe our laws do not need to change and the guidance we issued to employers on religion or belief includes advice on this issue. Any employer thinking of changing policy should consult that guidance before making rash decisions,” it added.


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