Veiled Muslim Girl Denied School ‘Work Experience’ at Italian Hotel

9 March 2011 – Rimini, Italy
Laura Asioli

The Italian Secretary of State Daniela Santanchè has stated in an interview that she fully supports Mattia Palazzi’s (owner of 4* Hotel Sporting in Rimini, Italy) decision not to allow a Muslim girl to work for the Hotel as part of her school’s compulsory ‘work experience’ programme. Mr Palazzi stated that the hotel had to adhere to a strict international uniform policy which did not allow veils. This policy had little to do with religion he explained. Ms Santanchè added that the decision relates to the respect for rules; rules which a hotel owner is freely entitled to set, regardless of employees’ faiths.

Although this case has not gone to court, chances of success for the school girl may be dim. The 2006 UK case concerning a Muslim girl not being allowed to wear a ‘jilbab’ to school (Judgments – R (on the application of Begum (by her litigation friend, Rahman)) (Respondent) v. Headteacher and Governors of Denbigh High School (Appellants)) followed the reasoning of the Strasbourg court in Kalaç v Turkey (1997) 27 EHRR 552, para 27, affirming that:

“Article 9 does not protect every act motivated or inspired by a religion or belief. Moreover, in exercising his freedom to manifest his religion, an individual may need to take his specific situation into account.”

It remains to be seen of course, whether Strasbourg would find in favour of an employer who denied an employee work because manifesting their religion went against a uniform policy. The employer would of course have to prove that the uniform policy was “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” (Article 9(2) ECHR)