Erdogan sees ‘crusade against Islam’ behind ECJ headscarf ruling

Wooing the Turkish diaspora: Erdogan, with wife Emine, in Strasbourg in 2015. [Reuters]

Turkey’s president today (16 March) accused the EU’s top court of starting a “crusade” against Islam after a ruling allowing European companies to ban employees from wearing religious or political symbols including the Islamic headscarf.

“The European Union’s court, The European Court of Justice, my esteemed brothers, have started a crusade struggle against the (Muslim) crescent,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a televised speech, asking “where is freedom of religion?”

The Turkish press wrote that the country’s government will provide legal support to Turkish citizens living in France and Belgium after the ECJ ruling.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on 14 March that internal rules in companies in the EU which prohibit the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.

The ruling came after a Belgian Court of Cassation, before which the matter was brought, referred it to the ECJ. In 2003, Samira Achtiba was employed by a Belgian company as a receptionist. On 12 May 2006, she informed her employer that she intended to wear an Islamic headscarf during working hours. The firm answered that this would not be tolerated, because the visible wearing of political, philosophical or religious signs was contrary to the position of neutrality the company had adopted in its customer relations.

However, Achtiba notified her employer that she would wear the headscarf. The company’s management approved an amendment to the workplace regulations, prohibiting such religious signs. On 12 June Ashtiba was dismissed. She challenged the dismissal in court.

The Belgian Court of Cassation, before which the matter was brought, queried the interpretation of the EU directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.

The ECJ ruled that the internal rule of the Belgian company ws not applied differently to Achtiba and accordingly, such an internal rule does not represent a difference of treatment directly based on religion or belief.

Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand said the EU executive would analyse the ECJ decision in detail. “The issue of wearing religious symbols at work requires careful balancing of various fundamental rights involved, including the freedom of religion, the principle of non-discrimination and the freedom to conduct a business,” he said.

Wigand added that concrete situations differ widely depending on the particular circumstances, the context and the relevant legal framework. This is why situations should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, he added.

Amnesty warns ECJ headscarf ban ruling ‘panders to prejudice’

A landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJK) that EU companies can ban employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim headscarf, panders to prejudice, Amnesty International warned today.

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