Muslim women in burqa face veils (illustration)
Muslim women in burqa face veils (illustration)Serge Attal/Flash 90

(JTA) -- A legal adviser to the European Union supported a British firm’s contested ban on Muslim headscarves, citing the company’s policy against wearing a kippah.

The European Court of Justice’s advocate general, Juliane Kokott, gave her opinion earlier this week on a lawsuit for alleged discrimination brought by a Belgian Muslim claimant against her former employer, the security firm G4S, Britain’s The Sun daily reported Wednesday.

Dismissing the claimant’s allegation that she had been discriminated against because of her faith, Kokott wrote: “A company rule such as that operated by G4S could just as easily affect a male employee of Jewish faith who comes to work wearing a kippah, or a Sikh who wishes to perform his duties in a turban, or male or female employees of a Christian faith who wish to wear a clearly visible crucifix or a T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Jesus is great’ to work.”

An employee cannot “leave his sex, skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability at the door upon entering his employer’s premises,” but  “may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace,” Kokott added in her nonbinding advisory ahead of the first hearing on the case at the European Court of Justice later this year.

The arrival in Europe of millions of Muslims in waves of immigration that began in the 1950s has generated mounting opposition in predominantly Christian societies. The tensions were exacerbated by radical Islamist trends prevalent in many Muslim communities in Western Europe.

Many European Muslims feel that opposition and legislation to religious clothing -- face-covering clothing was made illegal in France and the Netherlands in recent years -- is Islamophobic in essence, even though its application uses neutral and universal language.

Meanwhile, some European Jews believe their way of life is collateral damage in the pushback by Europeans against the perceived effect of Muslim immigration, including in the banning in some European countries of ritual slaughter and the fight to outlaw nonmedical circumcision of boys.

The debate on equal treatment on religious clothing came to a head in France in 2012, when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, explained that she is forced to reluctantly support a ban on wearing kippahs because of her opposition to Muslim clothing.

“What would people say if I’d only asked to ban Muslim clothing? They’d burn me as a Muslim hater,” Le Pen said, adding that she was “asking our Jewish compatriots to make this small effort, this little sacrifice” for the sake of equality.

Founded by her father, a convicted Holocaust denier, the National Front has moderated under Marine Le Pen, who in 2014 said the party was a “shield” for Jews against radical Islam. But both Jewish and Muslim groups condemned her 2012 comment on kippahs and Muslim garb.