After landing an internship at a town hall, a Palestinian immigrant arrived at work in her hijab. However, when she declined to remove her religious garb, her new employer gave her an unexpected surprise.
At every job, there are certain rules in the workplace that all employees are equally required to follow. For many, non-compliance could result in immediate termination without exception. However, religious conviction appears to be the lens through which employee and employer rights begin to blur.
While the Western world is exceptional in its protection of religious freedom, the end of one’s faith-based rights and the beginning of another’s rights to run their business are still being defined. Unfortunately for some, this means making incredibly difficult decisions that don’t always play out as expected, which a Palestinian intern learned the hard way.
In Luckenwalde, Germany, a Palestinian immigrant was offered an internship at the local town hall, where she would have the privilege of working directly under mayor Elizabeth Herzog von der Heide. Incredibly, she obtained the government position through a program specializing in assisting immigrants with integrating into Western society, Express reports. However, this was when mayor von der Heide realized that the devil is indeed in the details.
Although she was informed during the interview process about the rules prohibiting the displaying of religious symbols, the 48-year-old Muslim woman arrived at her first day on the job wearing an Islamic hijab to cover her hair and neck. It was when the Palestinian intern again refused to comply with the rules concerning displaying faith-based symbols on the clock that she discovered she’d have something of hers refused in return.
Without hesitation, mayor von der Heide informed the Palestinian intern that since she would not remove her hijab, her position at the town hall would be revoked. Choosing her faith over gainful employment, the woman walked out of the building.
When questioned about her decision to terminate the Muslim woman instead of allowing her exemption from the rules, mayor von der Heidi unapologetically explained that she will maintain an atmosphere of equality in the workplace, adding that no one else is granted special privilege based on their faith, according to the Telegraph.
“We told her that a neutrality requirement applies here,” Ms von der Heide told Bild newspaper. “Religious symbols have no place in our government. We also do not allow crucifixes on the walls. She said she could only do that when no men were present. So, she had to finish her internship.”
Mayor von der Heide pointed out that the Muslim woman had “injured the neutrality” of the workplace by exhibiting the prominent religious icon. She reiterated that it cannot be argued that discrimination took place since she was ensuring that the rules apply to everyone equally, adding that offering exemption would actually be a form of discrimination itself.
The ordeal has sparked international debate on religious liberties and entrepreneurial rights as well as the separation of church and state. While individual freedoms are uninfringeable, it’s difficult to define where one person’s rights end and another person’s rights begin.