Religion News Blog — UK Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has instructed Government lawyers to oppose the right of Christian workers to wear a cross. The Daily Mail says they will call on European human rights judges to dismiss the claims of Christian workers who have been banned from displaying the symbol of their faith at work.
The Strasbourg court this spring will take on the cases of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin. Mrs Eweida, a British Airways check-in clerk, was suspended from work in 2006 after refusing instructions to take off the cross she wore while at work. Mrs. Chaplin Christian is a Christian nurse who was moved to a desk job after refusing to remove her crucifix at work.
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It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.
A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so. […]
The Strasbourg case hinges on whether human rights laws protect the right to wear a cross or crucifix at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It states: “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 Christian women bringing the case, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbols.
They want the European Court to rule that this breached their human right to manifest their religion.
The Government’s official response states that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.
Lawyers for the two women claim 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.
They say that Christians are given less protection than members of other religions who have been granted special status for garments or symbols such as the Sikh turban and kara bracelet, or the Muslim hijab.
Referring to Mrs. Neweida’s case, in a Telegraph column titled, “It’s a huge mistake to forbid a tiny act of Christian worship,” Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, points out BA’s hypocrisy:
The entire British landscape is testament to Christian history, from the crosses in cemeteries to the churches that still dominate our villages. The last time I looked, British Airways still had a livery based on the Union flag — and it seemed the height of hypocrisy to indicate a socking great cross on the tailfin of every plane, but to forbid a teensy little crucifix around the neck of an employee.
Such was the general pop-eyed outcry that BA eventually caved in. After about a year of dither, it changed the rules so as to allow all members of staff to wear a discreet religious symbol. So I bet you were as stunned as I was to learn yesterday that the case is not over — and that the Government appears to be backing BA’s original decision.
The Yorkshire Post says the Archbishop of York accused Ministers of “meddling” yesterday after it emerged the Government plans to argue in a landmark court case that Christians have no right to wear the cross at work “My view is that this is not the business of government actually.
“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.
“Article Nine of the Human Rights Act actually says that people should be able to manifest their faith in teaching, in worship and in belief.
“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.
“The Government should not raise the bar so high that in the end they are now being unjust.”
But The Telegraph reports that Dr. Rowan Williams, the controversial Archbishop of Canterbury, says the cross has become a “religious decoration” “which religious people make and hang on to” as a substitute for true faith:
Speaking at a church service in Rome, where he met the Pope at the weekend, Dr Williams said the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of a tendency to manufacture religion.
Taking as his text the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem he said the temple had become a “religion factory” rather than a place of worship.
“I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory,” he said.
“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”
Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting part of the European Court claim, said the remarks were “unhelpful”.
Just last month The Telegraph reported that Britain is failing to protect the rights of Christians to follow their faith, as a committee of MPs and peers has concluded:
A report from a cross-party parliamentary group will this week warn that there is a widespread lack of “religious literacy” among the country’s judges, politicians and officials.
It also claims that the rights of homosexuals take precedence over those of Christians.
The study, by the Christians in Parliament group, follows a series of rulings by judges against Christians who had claimed that following their faith brought them into conflict with the law or with their employer.
The committee came to their conclusion after studying 33 instance, “mostly employment tribunals and court cases, where Christians claimed they had received unfair treatment under the law, and took evidence from more than 30 Christian organisations. ”
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