Christians demand right to wear crucifix jewelry at work

Paula Duffy's picture

Wearing a necklace with a cross put at least two British women in trouble on the job. One was temporarily suspended from her job with British Airways

Christians in Great Britain are anxiously waiting a decision in a case presented to the European Court of Human Rights but understand that their own government will oppose their position.

Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin are using the the European Court option after Lynn Featherstone who holds the position of Britain's Equalities Minister chose to tell her lawyers to ask the court to dismiss the claims of the two women.

Being tested is Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

The intriguing part of the case is to watch how sides have been drawn over a simple question. Is a cross a religious symbol or merely a piece of jewelry, not covered under the civil laws related to freedom of religion and suppression of human rights?

A columnist in the UK Guardian found that Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury appears to have come out against the ladies as well, calling a crucifix on a chain a matter of personal taste and not a religious symbol. Dr. Williams added. "...And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”

To demonstrate how religious leaders are divided on this issue, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey issued a statement that read in part: "The irony is that when governments and courts dictate to Christians that the cross is a matter of insignificance, it becomes an even more important symbol and expression of our faith."

Ms. Featherstone's pointed out that neither woman's petition makes the claim that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix is a generally recognized form of practicing the Christian faith or that Christians in general regard it as a requirement of their faith, reported the Daily Mail.

The claims of Ms. Chaplin and Ms. Eweida state that the Government is setting the bar too high and that “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.

British Air, Ms. Weida's employer relented after public criticism of its decision to suspend their employee. It had used its uniform policy for employees as the basis for the discipline. The Telegraph reported that the company has since changed that policy.

Ms. Chaplin is a nurse and worked in hospital wards. She was asked to hide the crucifix while working and now is no longer performing ward nurse work .

The women's claims are part of a bundle of four separate cases testing religious freedom in the EU, including one of a former registrar who objected to conducting civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Marieke Kuijjer

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