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Turkey condemns European Court’s decision to uphold headscarf ban in the workplace

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Muslim scarves displayed for sale. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Berlin (CNSNews.com) A recent ruling from Europe’s highest court allowing a ban on Muslim headscarves in the workplace has reignited debate here over whether to allow religious symbols in public life.

Turkey has expressed outrage at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling, with Vice President Fuat Oktay saying it would allow violence and discrimination.

I strongly condemn such an ambivalent decision which destroys freedom of religion and conscience, Oktay told reporters in Ankara.

Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who regularly accuses European Union member states, particularly Germany and France, of Islamophobia also criticized the move.

This issue has nothing to do with a court of law, he said. There cannot be a court of law that does not know what freedom of religion is.

The CJEC ruled Last Thursday, the headscarf ban by two German employers, contested by two Muslim women, was acceptable where companies had a real need to present a neutral image to customers.

The court stressed that a ban would not constitute discrimination if it applied to all religions, and noted that one of the two employers involved, a daycare center, prohibited staff from wearing any religious items, including clothing. Jewish kippas or Christian crosses. (The other employer is a chain of retail stores.)

The issue of banning the headscarf in workplaces or in public life is a sensitive issue across the EU. Article 10 of the EU Charter enshrines a right to religious freedom, but headscarves have been restricted to varying degrees in several of the 27 member states. States.

Some countries, such as Austria, France and Belgium have banned full veil covers. Different levels of restrictions on the Islamic veil are also in place in Bulgaria, Denmark, Latvia and Luxembourg.

It’s also a thorny issue in Germany, where the Muslim population has grown by around 900,000 since 2015, according to an April study. He estimated that there are currently between 5.3 and 5.6 million Muslims with an immigrant background, representing 6.4 to 6.7 percent of the German population.

Germany also has the largest population of ethnic Turks outside of Turkey. Turks are the largest ethnic minority in Germany.

Last year, the German Federal Court ruled that a blanket headscarf ban in Berlin schools was unconstitutional. Unlike Germany, since 2004 France has banned the wearing of headscarves in schools.

Several German lawmakers have expressed support for the current ECJ decision, with Federal and European Affairs Minister Lucia Puttrich praising it.

With the current ruling, the ECJ has strengthened economic freedom and private autonomy, Puttrich wrote in an editorial for European.

The decision is to be welcomed as there is a crucial difference between the state and private companies, she said. As a victim, you cannot withdraw from the state. Customers, on the other hand, can decide whether they prefer to shop from multicultural or strictly neutral retailers.

Birgl Akpinar, a German-Turkish member of the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU), called the move a good one.

Now we only need German judges who have the courage to follow the judgment of the ECJ and NO, that would be neither exclusion, nor discrimination, nor racism, but common sense! she wrote on Twitter.

Human rights organizations, however, were troubled by the decision, with Human Rights Watch saying it jeopardized religious freedom.

The reasoning of the courts that allowing religious clothing could interfere with a business’s ability to function rests on the flawed logic that customer objections to employees wearing religious clothing can legitimately override employee rights, a said Hillary Margolis, principal investigator for the group.

Neutrality has already been used to justify similar bans in the public sector, she said. This decision extends this logic to the private sector and opens the door to widespread discrimination in the workplace.

Bekir Alta, general secretary of the Cologne-based Islamic community Milli Grs, criticized the decision as an attack on the right of Muslim women to live and work on an equal basis.

The European Court of Justice has left Muslim women with a dilemma to choose between their religion and their work, Altas said. This cannot be convincing in a liberal democratic order.

Milli Grs (National Vision) is a Turkish government-backed group that operates mosques for the Turkish diaspora across Europe.

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