The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that employers can ban employees from wearing head scarves. The case involved two Muslim women who were fired after refusing to remove their hijabs. The court said the ban on headscarves did not constitute discrimination, as long as a general ban on other religious or political symbols was in place.
Houston lawyer Peter Costea says employees have rights, but so do employers. “There are so many competing rights and interests involved in this case,” he observes. However, he adds, “Frankly, I don’t think that they are completely legitimate reasons for banning the wearing of Muslim clothing in the workplace.”
“What concerns me, though,” Costea adds, “is that—what I have seen in the last, I would say, maybe 10 or 15 years—I’ve seen a steady erosion of religious freedom and religious rights in Europe.” Costea says he’s “not too happy about” the ruling, seeing it as part of this larger trend.
Costea says such a decision would not stand in the U.S. “Maybe one or two years ago,” he recalls, “the Supreme Court of the United States, I think, held against a store chain in the United State that prohibited Muslim young ladies from wearing Muslim attire in the stores.” That Supreme Court decision was against Abercrombie & Fitch in 2015.
There’s little to no chance a state court, in Texas or elsewhere, would uphold a hijab ban, Costea says. “State courts, and the Supreme Court of Texas,” he points out, are “more or less bound by the decisions issued by the Supreme Court of the United States in terms of employment jurisprudence.” He adds that the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act mirrors the federal Title VII in these matters.