Diane James MEP’s Statement on the European Court of Justice ruling in Cases C-157/15

UK Employers may bar staff from wearing visible religious symbols, the European Union’s top court has ruled in its first decision on the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves at work.

“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the Court said in a statement. However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination.

“This ruling will have severe ramifications across European Member States, and will cause a wide debate on the highly sensitive fault lines between personal religious freedoms, and the property rights of business owners to dictate dress terms. For those countries with significant populations where the headscarf is viewed as part of their cultural heritage and against a backdrop of elections too, this subject will remain topical for much of 2017.

“As this ruling will affect the United Kingdom, I stress that this is a decision that should have been made by the British courts, and not be forced upon the UK by the European Union. This matter cuts to the very heart of personal liberties and property rights: it has security implications and it is wholly inappropriate for it to be imposed upon the UK. It is precisely this nature of meddling in British matters that persuaded many voters in 2016 to wish to leave the EU.”