Bavaria’s ruling party, the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), has proposed a boycott of British Airways because the company’s uniform policy forbids openly wearing religious symbols. This proposal by the CSU was precipitated by the recent suspension of a British Airways ticket counter employee for wearing a small silver cross visibly on a necklace. By letter to the President of Germany’s Parliament, the CSU demanded that the German Bundestag no longer book flights for its representatives on British Airways. The letter was written by CSU representative, Johannes Singhammer, who stated that the restriction and the suspension of the employee for visibly wearing a cross is "absolutely unacceptable for a Christian and completely discriminatory toward Christian fundamental beliefs." [„als Christ für absolut nicht hinnehmbar und schlichtweg diskriminierend gegenüber den christlichen Grundüberzeugungen“].
The woman who was suspended for visibly wearing a cross has appealed her treatment to a German Labor Court [Arbeitsgericht]. She points to the inconsistency of British Airways’ uniform uniform policy, as it relates to wearing visible religious symbols, for Sikhs, Muslim women, and Christian symbols:
She argues, among other things, that Sikhs may wear their turbans and Muslim women employed by the company can certainly wear their Hijab, or headscarf, which the Airline justifies by saying "that these symbols are difficult to hide under the uniform."
[ Sie argumentiert unter anderem, dass Sikhs ihre Turbane und angestellte muslimische Frauen den Hijab, das Kopftuch, durchaus tragen dürften, was die Airline damit begründet, "dass diese Symbole sich schlecht unter der Uniform verbergen lassen".]
My preliminary thoughts on this case are as follows:
1. It seems highly problematic for the CSU to be demanding the government to enter into this kind of boycott for the reasons given. It seems to amount to an endorsement of a particular religion to initiate a boycott based on an employee being suspended for wearing a cross visibly. The letter from Singhammer adds to this sense of impropriety, at least to my point of view as an American (and surely there will be disagreement among Americans about whether this constitutes a constitutionally impermissible endorsement of religion in the American system).
2. Following on the above, research I have done about some of these issues in German law and German courts, and particularly in Bavaria, shows this move by the CSU to be highly ironic. Currently, Muslim schoolteachers are prohibited from wearing a headscarf in the classroom by state law in many German states. These states have have passed administrative regulations specifically prohibiting the headscarf after a 2003 decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court [Bundesverfassungsgericht — Germany’s highest court on constitutional questions] found that the administrative regulation in the case prohibiting Muslim teachers from wearing a headscarf while teaching was unconstitutional because such a question bearing directly on both the right to religious freedom and the right to employment needed to be decided by a democratically elected legislature. Thus, the teacher at issue in the 2003 case was allowed to continue wearing her headscarf while teaching but the German states were free to pass regulations through their legislatures that restricted a civil servant such as a public school teacher from wearing the headscarf while teaching. German states have followed through with passing such prohibitive regulations. In Bavaria, the home of the CSU, a public school teacher is not allowed to wear a headscarf while teaching but individual teachers can decide to have a crucifix hanging on the walls of their classrooms (an earlier decision by the Federal Constitutional Court had held that it was unconstitutional for the school to mandate that each classroom have a crucifix hanging in it; however, since individual teachers can make that decision, classrooms in Bavaria still sport prominently displayed crucifixes, but teachers cannot wear a headscarf if they happen to be Muslim).
3. Having stated my concern with the proposed boycott, I must agree that the discrepancy in treatment between Sikhs and Muslim women and Christian employees is curious. One might argue that the turban is mandatory for Sikhs and the hijab is quasi-mandatory for Muslim women while the cross or crucifix on jewelry is not mandatory for adherents of Christian faiths. But the fact remains that Sikhs and Muslim women may still openly wear symbols of their religious persuasion but Christians cannot. It does seem that this inconsistency should be addressed, but not through an official boycott of the airline by Germany’s Parliament.