About two weeks ago the European Court of Justice decided, that a company was allowed to ban its employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim headscarf. The ruling was made after Asma Bougnaoui had claimed that the dismissal from her workplace, that occurred as a direct consequence of her wearing a headscarf was a human rights violation.
This judgment was circulated by all major news agencies and celebrated by right-wing parties across Europe as a victory for anti-Islamic views. The French far right party Front National tweeted “Even the ECJ votes Marine”, implying that the court decision constituted a support for the views of the party. Then, as is the nature of the news cycle of our time, the judgment was forgotten by the general public. It is now the job of blogs like this and others to interpret the consequences of what happened on March 14th.
Prejudice against Muslims, as part of the ongoing surge of the far right has become an acceptable opinion. 5 years ago, especially in liberal Germany, voicing racist opinions would have been unacceptable in society. Today I feel like an outsider if I remind an audience of the fact that wearing a headscarf constitutes the exercise of the constitutionally granted right to freedom of religion.
The decision by European Court of Justice to allow the ban of the headscarf in the workplace is a reflection of this sentiment. It is also far from the only court judgment on the issue. In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights, the other supranational court in Europe, declared in essence, that the general ban of the burqa in France was a justified violation of the freedom of religion and therefore untouchable. And yet our society calls itself “tolerant”, defines human rights as key values and denounces Donald Trump.
The Dutch may have rejected Geert Wilders, the French may elect Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen, in Germany the “Schulz-Effect” may beat the far right “Alternative für Deutschland”. Despite the awakening of liberal and left-wing Europe, with thousands marching for a united Europe every week, some damage may have been done that cannot be reversed. The judgment of the European Court of Justice will become a landmark decision that other courts use to decide similar disputes, enshrining the victory of anti-Islamic sentiment over the freedom of religion into international case law. Voicing islamophobic opinions will remain socially acceptable in the years to come. Even if Europe does not fall victim to the far right in 2017, which is far from certain at this point, the judgment of the European Court of Justice and the sentiment it reflects will live on, maybe in smaller circles but the damage has been done. It is our duty as defenders of the values of our democratic society to prevent the victory of hate over tolerance and to reduce the effects of what has already been done to a minimum.