January 14, 2013

As Religious Restrictions Rise, European Court To Decide Cases Involving Religious Symbols

On Tuesday (January 15), the European Court of Human Rights is scheduled to announce decisions on several high profile religious freedom cases involving the United Kingdom.

Two complaints claim British law inadequately protects employees’ right to display symbols of their religion in the workplace.

The cases involve a British Airways employee and a nurse in the geriatric ward of a British hospital who say their employers barred them from visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that regulations on the wearing of religious symbols increased globally between mid-2007 and mid-2010. In mid-2010, religious attire and other symbols were regulated in 57 countries (29%), up from 21 countries (11%) in mid-2009.  Regulations increased in places as diverse as France, where the burqa was banned, and Rwanda, where the government prohibited religious headgear in photos for government documents.

Regulations on religious attire differ widely. Some countries ban religious garb; Turkey, for example, bars women from wearing headscarves in government offices. In other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, religious coverings are required for women. And in Jordan, the Tourism Ministry recently advised Israeli visitors to avoid wearing Jewish attire while in the country, reportedly out of concern for their safety.

The European Court also is slated to announce decisions in a pair of cases involving employees who contend that U.K. laws fail to protect their right to object to homosexuality on religious grounds.

–Brian J. Grim, senior researcher and director of cross-national data, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

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