March 16 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Government comes under fire over right of Christians to wear a cross

Religious groups have criticised the UK Government after a leaked document suggested it was moving to deny Christians the right to wear a cross at work.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has also ordered government lawyers to oppose the right of Christian workers to wear a cross ahead of a landmark case at the European Court of Human Rights.

The court in Strasbourg is preparing to hear the cases of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, who claim they were discriminated against when their employers banned them from wearing a cross.

Mrs Eweida’s case dates from 2006, when the 61-year-old, from Twickenham, was suspended by British Airways for breaching its uniform code.

Mrs Chaplin, a 56-year-old nurse from Exeter, was banned from working on wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after refusing to hide the cross she wore on a necklace.

Lawyers for the two women claim that the protection under Article Nine of the Human Rights Act for ‘manifesting’ religion covers things that are not a ‘requirement of the faith.’

The government is expected to make a submission to the Strasbourg court, which dismissed the argument as ‘ill-founded.’

Its argument will state that the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief in the meaning of Article 9 and… the restriction on the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.

Rev Ian Galloway, convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “Unless organisations have specific policies which preclude all employees from wearing jewellery, or governing the ways jewellery may be worn, the Church of Scotland hopes that there will be no discrimination against people who wish to wear items of a religious nature.

“Whatever the strict legal situation, we believe that individuals should have the right to make statements of faith, and this extends to the wearing of appropriate jewellery.”

Archbishop John Sentamu of York, also attacked the government’s argument. “This is not the business of government actually,” he said. “They are beginning to meddle in areas that they ought not to. I think they should leave that to the courts to make a judgment.

“If someone wanted to manifest their belief as a Christian that they wanted to wear a cross—after all at their Baptism they are sealed with a cross of Christ—so if they decided to say, ‘I know I am sealed with it, but I am going to wear it,’ I think that is a matter really for people and that we should allow it.”

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