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Austrian Supreme Court: If You’re Wearing a Face Veil, You Can’t Communicate

Austria's supreme court ruled that a company boss's refusal to let a woman wear the full face veil at work was constitutional.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Two women wearing Islamic niqab veils stand outside the French Embassy during a demonstration on April 11, 2011 in London, England. France has become the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of the veil and in Paris two women have been detained by police under the new law.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Two women wearing Islamic niqab veils stand outside the French Embassy during a demonstration on April 11, 2011 in London, England. France has become the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of the veil and in Paris two women have been detained by police under the new law. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

A Muslim woman working at an Austrian company had a simple request: She already wrote a headscarf and abaya — a garment that covered the rest of her body — but she wanted to begin wearing a full face veil too.

Her boss refused to let it happen, allegedly telling her that she couldn’t take her “experiment in ethnic clothing” into the workplace.

On Tuesday, Austria’s supreme court ruled that her boss was right, claiming in its decision that leaving one’s face uncovered is one of the “undisputed basic rules of communication” in Austria.

Both the woman and her employer remained anonymous, and the court agreed that she was probably discriminated against due to the language her boss used, even if he was constitutionally correct in refusing to allow her to wear the veil at work. For that reason, the court awarded her around $1,320 —  a fraction of the some $9,300 she argued that she deserved.

Austria’s far-right, anti-immigrant party lost the recent presidential elections by a narrow margin, and just won the opportunity for a second, snap election in August. Their platform was based largely on a narrative that refugees — many of whom are Muslim — threaten Austria’s social fabric.

Tuesday’s ruling is the latest in a series of decisions in Europe that prevent Muslims from practicing certain aspects of their faith if they’re believed to interrupt with the country’s social codes.

In May, two male teenage Muslim students from Syria who attend a school in Therwil, Switzerland, were told they would be forced to pay a $5,000 fine if they refused to shake their female teachers’ hands, a custom in Swiss classrooms. “The public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion,” Therwil’s local education department said in a statement at the time.

Photo credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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