RELIGIOUS groups have hit out at the UK government after a leaked document suggested it was moving to deny Christians the right to wear crosses at their place of work.
The Church of Scotland stressed that there should be “no discrimination” against people who wish to make statements of faith by wearing jewellery, after it emerged that ministers were fighting a case brought by two women at the European Court of Human Rights.
Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbol.
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 barred 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 article states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” including the right to “manifest” their religion or belief “in worship, teaching, practice, and observance”.
The government is expected to make a submission to the Strasbourg court which dismisses their argument as “ill-founded”. Its argument, leaked to a Sunday newspaper, will state 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.”
Christian groups have condemned the government’s stance as extraordinary and said it should not interfere.
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.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, also attacked the government’s argument. He said: “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.
“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.”