Judges ruled today that a decision not to renew a French social worker’s contract, who refused to remove her veil, did not breach human rights law.
In its judgment in the case of Ebrahimian v. France (application no. 64846/11) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been
no violation of Article 9 (right to freedom of religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court noted that wearing the veil had been considered by the authorities as an ostentatious manifestation of religion that was incompatible with the requirement of neutrality incumbent on public officials in discharging their functions.
The applicant Christiane Ebrahimian, had been ordered to observe the principle of secularism within the meaning of Article 1 of the French Constitution and the requirement of neutrality deriving from that principle.
According to the national courts, it had been necessary to uphold the secular character of the state and thus protect the hospital patients from any risk of influence or partiality in the name of their right to their own freedom of conscience.
The necessity of protecting the rights and liberties of others – that is, respect for everyone’s religion – had formed the basis of the decision in question.
The court found that the national authorities had not exceeded their margin of appreciation in finding that there was no possibility of reconciling Ebrahimian’s religious convictions with the obligation to refrain from manifesting them, and in deciding to give precedence to the requirement of neutrality and impartiality of the state.