‘Give Christians the freedom to wear crucifixes’

CHRISTIANS should be free to wear symbols of their religion without discrimination, the Archbishop of York said following the verdict of a court battle over the right to wear a cross at work.

Dr John Sentamu’s call came after European Court of Human Rights found in favour of former British Airways worker Nadia Eweida but rejected a similar claim by nurse Shirley Chaplin.

Miss Eweida, 60, took the airline to a tribunal when she was sent home from work for displaying a small silver crucifix on a chain around her neck.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Her claims of religious discrimination were rejected in Britain but judges in Strasbourg upheld them yesterday.

Their ruling concluded there had been a violation of Miss Eweida’s right to demonstrate her faith which caused her “considerable anxiety, frustration and distress”.

But they said there had been no such violation in Mrs Chaplin’s case by her former employer, the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital.

The 57-year-old was switched to a desk job after refusing to remove a crucifix she had worn with her uniform for around 30 years.

Judges said the removal of her necklace had been necessary for health and safety reasons and nurses of other faiths had also been told they could not wear certain items of religious dress.

Reacting to the rulings, Dr Sentamu said: “Christians are not obliged to wear a cross but should be free to show their love for and trust in Jesus Christ in this way if they so wish.”

Tribunals and courts should not have to rule on what symbols people can or cannot wear, he added.

Miss Eweida said she was “jumping for joy” at the verdict in her case but expressed disappointment that it had been the only victory of the day.

“I was very selfish initially when I heard the verdict because I was jumping for joy and saying ‘thank you, Jesus’,” she said.

Miss Eweida, from Twickenham, London, added: “It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith.”

Miss Eweida left her job in airport check-in in September 2006 but returned to work in customer services at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in February 2007, after BA changed its uniform policy on visible items of jewellery.

Yesterday’s lengthy judgment found a fair balance was not struck between Miss Eweida’s desire to demonstrate her religious belief and BA’s wish to “project a certain corporate image”.

It found the airline’s aim was “undoubtedly legitimate” but said domestic courts accorded it “too much weight”.

It concluded: “Ms Eweida’s cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance.

“There was no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorised, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees had any negative impact on British Airways’ brand or image.”

The British Government was ordered to pay Miss Eweida £1,600 in damages and £25,000 in 
costs.

Business Secretary Vince Cable – who is Miss Eweida’s local MP and has campaigned on her behalf – said he was delighted at the result in her case.

“It is a tribute to her tenacity that she has finally won,” he said.

The ruling in Miss Eweida’s case was also warmly welcomed at Downing Street.

“The Prime Minister is delighted that the principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld,” David Cameron’s official spokesman said.

“The Government’s view is that the law as it stands strikes the right balance between the rights of employees and employers.”

Claims of religious discrimination by two other Christians were rejected in the same ruling.

Marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, 51, lost his job after refusing to provide sex therapy to gay couples and registrar Lillian Ladele lost hers after refusing to conduct same-sex civil partnerships.

Dave Landrum, of Christian charity the Evangelical Alliance said the judgments showed a 
“hierarchy of rights” in British 
law. “If we want to create a society that is diverse and can live with its deepest differences there needs to be a fuller protection for religious beliefs, convictions and actions.”

Gay rights campaigners welcomed the latter two rulings.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “Today’s judgment rightly confirms that it’s completely unacceptable in 2013 for public servants to pick and choose who they want to serve
on the basis of sexual orient-ation.”

The three unsuccessful applicants can now appeal against the decision at the Grand Chamber of the Court.