In a recent ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) declared that government offices within the EU have the authority to prohibit employees from wearing religious symbols, including Islamic headscarves. This ban, even for employees with no direct public interaction, is deemed acceptable to maintain a neutral administrative environment.
The verdict emerged from a case brought by an employee in a Belgian local government office who contested a ban on wearing an Islamic headscarf. She argued that the ban violated her freedom of religion and amounted to discrimination.
The Luxembourg-based court clarified that a prohibition on “any sign revealing philosophical or religious beliefs” is not discriminatory if it applies universally to all staff members and is restricted to what is strictly necessary. This ruling, applicable to public sector offices across the EU, aligns with previous judgments supporting the legality of such bans in private sector workplaces.
The court emphasized that national courts should determine the applicability of these prohibitions. Additionally, it noted that public offices have the discretion to tailor policies, restricting bans to public-facing roles or permitting the display of visible religious or philosophical signs of belief.
The ruling underscores the idea that each EU member state and relevant administrative bodies possess the flexibility to shape the neutrality of the public service in their workplaces based on their unique contexts.