Friday, November 27, 2015

European Court Upholds French Hospital's Hijab Ban

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday, in a Chamber Judgment by a panel of 7 judges, upheld the decision of a French hospital to refuse to renew the employment contract of a Muslim social worker who insisted on wearing a headscarf (hijab). The full decision in Ebrahimian v. France, (ECHR, Nov. 26, 2015) is available in French (with a partial dissenting opinion in English). According to the Court's English press release on the decision:
[T]he Court found that the requirement of neutrality of public officials could be regarded as justified in principle: the State, as employer of the applicant in a public hospital, could consider it necessary that she refrain from expressing her religious beliefs in discharging her functions in order to guarantee equality of treatment of patients....  [T]he Court reiterated that while public officials enjoyed total freedom of conscience, they were prohibited from manifesting their religious beliefs in discharging their functions. Such a restriction derived from the principle of the secular nature of the State, and that of the neutrality of public services, principles in respect of which the Court had already approved a strict implementation where a founding principle of the State was involved.
The Court considered that the fact that the national courts had afforded greater weight to the principle of secularism-neutrality and the State’s interest than to Ms Ebrahimian’s interest in not having the expression of her religious beliefs restricted did not cause a problem with regard to the [European] Convention [on Human Rights].
A Chamber Judgment may be appealed to the ECHR Grand Chamber. The Scotsman reports on the decision.  [Thanks to Paul de Mello for the lead.]