Christians have no right to wear cross at work, says Government ( in UK

Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at
work, the Government is to argue in a landmark court case.
Christians have no right to wear cross at work, says Government
The Government has refused to say that Christians have a right to
display the symbol of their faith at work Photo: PA

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent

9:00PM GMT 10 Mar 2012

In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the
European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to
establish their right to display the cross.

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 Government’s position received an angry response last night from
prominent figures including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of
Canterbury.

He accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians and
said it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined in
official life.

The Government’s refusal to say that Christians have a right to
display the symbol of their faith at work emerged after its plans to
legalise same-sex marriages were attacked by the leaders of the Roman
Catholic Church in Britain.

A poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph shows that the country is
split on the issue.

Overall, 45 per cent of voters support moves to allow gay marriage,
with 36 per cent against, while 19 per cent say they do not know.

However, the Prime Minister is out of step with his own party.

Exactly half of Conservative voters oppose same-sex marriage in
principle and only 35 per cent back it.

There is no public appetite to change the law urgently, with more than
three quarters of people polled saying it was wrong to fast-track the
plan before 2015 and only 14 per cent saying it was right.

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.

Last year it emerged that Mrs Eweida, a British Airways worker, and
Mrs Chaplin, a nurse, had taken their fight to the European Court in
Strasbourg after both faced disciplinary action for wearing a cross at
work.

Mrs Eweida’s case dates from 2006 when she was suspended for refusing
to take off the cross which her employers claimed breached BA’s
uniform code.

The 61 year-old, from Twickenham, is a Coptic Christian who argued
that BA allowed members of other faiths to wear religious garments and
symbols.

BA later changed its uniform policy but Mrs Eweida lost her challenge
against an earlier employment tribunal decision at the Court of Appeal
and in May 2010 was refused permission to go to the Supreme Court.

Mrs Chaplin, 56, from Exeter, was barred from working on wards by
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after she refused to hide the cross
she wore on a necklace chain, ending 31 years of nursing.

The Government claims the two women’s application to the Strasbourg
court is “manifestly ill-founded”.

Its response states: “The Government submit that… the applicants’
wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of
their religion or belief within 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.”

The response, prepared by the Foreign Office, adds: “In neither case
is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or
crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian
faith, still less one that is regarded (including by the applicants
themselves) as a requirement of the faith.”

The Government has also set out its intention to oppose cases brought
by two other Christians, including a former registrar who objected to
conducting civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Lillian Ladele, who worked as a registrar for Islington council in
north London for 17 years, said she was forced to resign in 2007 after
being disciplined, and claimed she had been harassed over her beliefs.

Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, was sacked by Relate for
refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

Christian groups described the Government’s stance as “extraordinary”.

Lord Carey said: “The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate
judgment of matters of theology and worship about which they can claim
no expertise.

“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.”

The Strasbourg cases brought by Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane are
supported by the Christian Legal Centre which has instructed Paul
Diamond, a leading human rights barrister.

Judges in Strasbourg will next decide whether all four cases will
progress to full hearings.

If they proceed, the cases will test how religious rights are balanced
against equality laws designed to prohibit discrimination.

Andrea Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It
is extraordinary that a Conservative government should argue that the
wearing of a cross is not a generally recognised practice of the
Christian faith.

“In recent months the courts have refused to recognise the wearing of
a cross, belief in marriage between a man and a woman and Sundays as a
day of worship as ‘core’ expressions of the Christian faith.

“What next? Will our courts overrule the Ten Commandments?”

Growing anger among Christians will be highlighted today by Delia
Smith, the television chef and practising Roman Catholic, who will
issue a Lent appeal on behalf the Church’s charity, Cafod, accusing
“militant neo-atheists and devout secularists” of “busting a gut to
drive us off the radar and try to convince us that we hardly exist”.

ICM Research interviewed an online sample of 2,001 adults between
March 7 and March 9. Interviews were conducted across the country and
results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.