BA wrong to ban Christian from wearing cross says ECHR

Jan 15, 2013

Nadia Eweida was discriminated against when airline stopped her wearing a crucifix, the ECHR rules

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BRITISH AIRWAYS discriminated against a devout Christian employee when they told her she could not wear a cross around her neck at work, the European Court of Human Rights said today.

Nadia Eweida (above), a 58-year-old check-in clerk and Coptic Christian, sparked a national debate about the right to display religious symbols in the workplace when she appealed to the ECHR after losing her case at a UK employment tribunal.

The court's "landmark" decision is a "humiliation" for David Cameron, says The Telegraph, who promised to change the law to "enshrine" worker's rights to wear the cross at work at the same time as government lawyers were fighting Eweida in court.

The ECHR today rejected legal challenges from three other Christians who said they were discriminated against in similar ways. Shirley Chaplin, a British geriatrics nurse, was told that the hospital where she worked was within its rights to say she could not wear a cross on duty for "health and safety" reasons.

The other unsuccessful complainants were Lilian Ladele, a registrar of births, deaths and marriages, and Gary McFarlane, a marriage counsellor, who were dismissed from their jobs when they complained that some of their duties would condone homosexuality.

Eweida was sent home in 2006 when she refused to remove a small silver cross from around her neck to comply with BA uniform regulations, which banned "visible religious symbols". She returned to work at Heathrow's Terminal 5 the following year after BA changed its uniform policy.

Today, the ECHR said the original uniform policy interfered with Eweida's right to "manifest her religion" and ruled it violated article nine (freedom of religion), by five votes to two. Eweida, who is from London, was awarded €32,000 in damages and costs.

Responding to the ECHR's decision John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, told the BBC that Christians and members of other faiths "should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination".

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the ECHR decision in relation to Ladele and McFarlane gave employers "wide discretion" to set guidelines "in respect of providing services to gay people".

But the decision is "a setback for traditionalist Christians", says Pigott, who have lost "numerous" cases in British courts when they argue they have the right to behave at work in line with their beliefs.

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