ROME (Reuters) – The Church of England is reviewing its “whole attitude” towards British Airways, in which it has investments, for refusing to let employees wear crosses over their uniforms, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Friday.
Rowan Williams also did not rule out joining a boycott of the airline, which he used to fly to Rome this week for his first official meeting with Pope Benedict.
“I’ll have to be consulting with others in the Church of England about our whole attitude towards BA, in which as you know we have some financial investment. That’s a question that has already been raised for discussion,” Williams told reporters.
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British Airways check-in staffer Nadia Eweida was told in October she had to hide her cross necklace at work by tucking it under her uniform. She lost her court appeal against the decision last week and says she is on “involuntary leave”.
“What I find deeply confusing about the present situation is the response of BA,” said Williams, the spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans.
“If BA is really saying or implying that the wearing of the cross in public is a source of offence, then I regard that as deeply offensive.”
British Airways says it recognises that uniformed staff might wish to wear jewellery including religious symbols. But it says its uniform policy, in place for several years, states that such items should be worn underneath clothing.
Williams noted that uniformed flight attendants could sell such symbols but not wear them.
“It’s just perhaps worth noting that it’s possibly an irony that among the duty-free jewellery items available on BA flights, there are small crucifixes,” he said.
Williams was asked about the dispute during a press conference in Rome. He was flanked by Roman Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper, who said he fully agreed with Williams about Christians’ right to display symbols of their faith.
The wearing of clothing or jewellery that identifies people with a particular faith has been a hot political issue in Britain since former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said last month that Muslim women who wore full veils made community relations difficult.
Williams has called that view “politically dangerous”.
Reporters pressed Williams about why, given his position, he had chosen to fly with British Airways to Rome — something which drew criticism back home.
He responded that the cost of a last-minute ticket change following the court’s decision would have been excessive.
“I have a responsibility for the proper use of … staff and money and reorganising (airfares) at short notice expensively and complicatedly doesn’t seem to be a responsible use,” he said.