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European Court says municipalities can limit wearing of religious symbols

The European Union Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that municipalities can ban the wearing of overt religious symbols such as headscargs. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
The European Union Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that municipalities can ban the wearing of overt religious symbols such as headscargs. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 28 (UPI) -- The European Union's Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that public administrations may ban overt religious symbols, like headscarves, in order to create a neutral environment as long it does not single out a particular religion.

The bloc's top court said such a rule must not discriminate in favor or against any specific religion and must be limited "to what is strictly necessary."

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The decision stems from a Belgian woman who charged that not wearing an Islamic headscarf violated her religious freedom, leading to the administration in the municipality of Ans to ban all overt religious signs from being worn.

"In order to put in place an entirely neutral administrative environment, a public administration may prohibit the visible wearing in the workplace of any sign revealing philosophical or religious beliefs. Such a rule is not discriminatory if applied in a general and indiscriminate manner to all of that administration's staff," the court said.

The court said while each member state and infra-state body has a "margin of discretion" in designing its neutral policies, it said that rules must be made in a "consistent and systematic manner, and the measures adopted to achieve it must be limited."

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The same court ruled in 2021 that private employers in the European Union could prohibit headscarves if it's part of a comprehensive ban on all religious and political symbols in relation to a policy on neutrality.

That decision arose from a case brought by two Muslim women working in Germany, reaffirming a similar decision made in 2017.

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