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Theresa May questions European court ruling on religious symbols in the workplace

Theresa May said she wanted to protect the tradition of freedom of expression (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has questioned a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which gives employers the right to ban staff from wearing ‘political, philosophical or religious’ symbols.

The European Court of Justice ruled that employers are not allowed to target specific religions but they are allowed to have a general policy forbidding the wearing of religious symbols such as crucifixes.

But when asked about the ruling during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Theresa May expressed reservations. She said: “It’s the right of all women to choose how they dress and we don’t intend to legislate on this issue.”

“There will be times where it’s right for a veil to be asked to be removed such as border security or perhaps in courts.

“Individual institutions can make their own policies but it is not for government to tell women what they can or cannot wear and we want to continue that strong tradition of freedom of expression.”

The case was brought to the ECJ by two Muslim women, one in France and the other in Belgium, who had been fired from their jobs because they insisted on wearing the hijab (head covering).

The ECJ said: “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.”

But the court also ruled that employers must have a blanket rule: they could not, for instance, ask a particular employee to remove a hijab simply because it was offending a customer.

Following the ruling, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth tweeted: “Euro-court ruling on wearing crucifixes is totalitarian: yet another triumph for secularists. What about freedom of self-expression?”