EGMR: Non-renewal of contract, in a public establishment, of a social assistant refusing to remove her veil was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights

von Dr. Georg Neureither

In today’s Chamber 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 case concerned the decision not to renew the contract of employment of a hospital social worker because of her refusal to stop wearing the Muslim veil.

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 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 freedom of 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 Ms 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.

Principal facts

The applicant, Christiane Ebrahimian, is a French national who was born in 1951 and lives in Paris (France) ...

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