Post by Alexa Macumber
I have loved working for Christian Legal Fellowship this summer. After completing my research on prostitution, I began working on an assignment concerning Canada’s Bill 21. This piece of legislation was the first Quebec law stating that “The State of Quebec is a lay State.” Since it was passed, new hires among public workers in positions of coercive authority have been banned from wearing religious symbols. It also mandates having one’s face uncovered to give or receive specific public services.
CLF has openly opposed the Bill because it excludes any person of religious conviction from the public sphere. The regulation most drastically affects Muslim attorneys, teachers, and doctors whose religion requires an outward manifestation of their beliefs. But there are concerns too for Catholic public employees who wish to wear a rosery or Jews who wish to wear a yamaka. The Bill effectively forces those of religious conviction to choose between freely expressing their beliefs and pursuing their dream careers.
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My research focused on whether European countries have laws prohibiting religious expression in the public sector and, if so, whether those laws extend to the public sector of the legal profession. I was able to find much caselaw surrounding restrictions and prohibition on the manifestation of religious beliefs in the public sector at large. However, there was not as much information about the treatment of public lawyers, judges, and police officers.
The most prominent cases were those in Germany, Spain, and Italy.
In Germany and Spain Muslim lawyers were barred from practicing until they agreed to remove their headscarves and complied with the state’s requirement of “maintaining neutrality.” In Italy, a judge refused to reschedule a Jewish lawyer’s hearing date because it fell on a Jewish holiday. As a consequence, his client was forced to appear without representation, even though he was entitled to have his lawyer present at the hearing.
Though these cases, and many like them, have gone before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Sadly, the results have not been any different. In fact, as recently as July 15, 2021, the CJEU held that employers may prohibit their employees from wearing signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs for the sake of neutrality if that prohibition covers all visible forms of those beliefs.
During my time working for CLF, I of course learned how to research and write, how to work independently, and how to ask other fellow interns for help and advice. But the most important thing I learned from my time at CLF is how to pray fearlessly and selflessly. How to trust the Lord even when the law is turning away from God, and how to find hope among the power of Christian community. For that, I will forever be grateful to CLF for their warm hospitality and for this lifechanging internship opportunity.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.