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European Employers Are Allowed to Ban the Burka, Top Court Rules

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said yesterday it does not constitute "direct discrimination" if a firm has an internal rule banning the wearing of "any political, philosophical or religious sign".

Another woman, Asma Bougnaoui, was dismissed from a French company Micropole, in 2008, after she also wore the headscarf to work.

The court's decision is the first to be issued in the controversial case. In the second case, another Muslim woman - Asma Bougnaoui - was sacked from a tech consultancy firm after a customer said his employees were "embarrassed" by the hijab she wore while giving them a presentation.

Tuesday's ruling included a judgement on another related case which concerned a woman in France who refused to take off her headscarf at a private company, after a client objected to her wearing it.

After losing their cases in Belgium, they went before the ECJ but the judges upheld the ruling made by the lower courts.

For instance, the Belgian court ruling on Ms Achbita's case would need to ascertain whether it could have been possible to offer her another post not involving visual contact with customers.

In Belgium, there are no federal rules on religious symbols at work, but the regional parliaments have taken measure to prohibit religious, political or philosophical symbols for public service workers who deal with the public.

The ruling came on the eve of an election in the Netherlands which has seen fierce debate over the impact of immigration and the rise of visible religious clothes. "The ECJ ruling relates to the European directive that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or beliefs", he says. The court found the company had fairly applied a dress code policy for all employees in an effort to project an image of political and religious neutrality.

The decision was instantly deplored by Islamic and some other religious groups, as well as some secular human-rights campaigners including Amnesty International, for legitimising discrimination.

It said: 'The court of justice finds that G4S's internal rule refers to the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs and therefore covers any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction.

"Unlike other European Union states, the United Kingdom doesn't have a culture of taking religion out of public life or office and we don't think many employers would want to ban their employees from wearing headscarves".

"We fear that this ruling will serve as a green light to those wishing to normalise discrimination against faith communities", said a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain.

Under current United Kingdom discrimination law, a ban on wearing an Islamic head covering of any kind would be lawful only if it was considered a "genuine occupational requirement".