EU headscarf ban ruling sparks faith group backlash

People shop at a market stall selling the hijab in east London. (Reuters photo)

BRUSSELS - Companies may ban staff from wearing Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols under certain conditions, the European Union's top court ruled on Tuesday, setting off a storm of complaint from rights groups and religious leaders.

In its first ruling on an issue that has become highly charged across Europe, the Court of Justice (ECJ) found a Belgian firm which had a rule that employees who dealt with customers should not wear visible religious or political symbols may not have discriminated against a Muslim receptionist it dismissed for wearing a headscarf.

The judgement on that and a French case came on the eve of a Dutch election in which Muslim immigration is a key issue and weeks before a similarly charged presidential vote in France, where headscarves are banned in public service jobs.

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