by McKayla Skinner
In courts in the United States use the image of Lady Justice or the balance she carries, symbolizing fairness under the law. This icon is not only used in the United States but also in thirteen other countries. However, this iconic message of “fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, greed, prejudice, or favor” is being ignored by the very people who use it as a symbol of judicial fairness.
Recently, a ruling held in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) “prohibited the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious signs, [stating that restrictions of such did not] constitute direct discrimination”. The case came forth because two Muslim women were wearing a symbolic garment of their faith, and were asked by supervisors to remove the garment due to a customer complaint. In court, the ECJ judges stated all visible expressions of religion or politics were banned, including “crucifixes, skullcaps, and turbans” rather than transferring the women to another part of the company, as others had proposed.
Even though the courts counseled businesses not to bend to every whim and prejudice of their clients, their ruling does promote prejudice. In fact, it goes beyond the business field. Reuben Vis, director-general of the Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands says that “Muslims are new on the block and they must also find a way, and they will find a way if they want be part of Europe.” Conveying the notion that Jewish people had to adapt to a secularist Europe by not wearing religious clothing, and that those in the Muslim faith will have to figure it out by themselves.
Unfortunately, these minority faiths do not realize that failing to protect others’ religious expression hurts their own religious freedom. Not being able to wear the garment as their religion constitutes also impacts their ability to profess or even privately carry the symbols of their faith as a reminder. As one further understands the implications of such laws that violate freedom of conscious, the impact doesn’t just affect some minority religions, but all. An increase of religious intolerance for one faith increases religious intolerance for all faiths.
Symbols remind all people of the beliefs that guide them. Lady Justice reminds the courts to be fair and impartial in their decisions. Symbols like religious garments similarly remind people of their religious beliefs. It appears that courts may be guided by symbols, but individual citizens cannot.