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Victory in European Cross Verdict

Peter Wooding : Jan 18, 2013 : Assist News Service

"Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld—people shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs." -Prime Minister David Cameron

(London, England)—Nurse Shirley Chaplin is calling on UK Prime Minister David Cameron to follow up his pledge to change the law to protect the "wearing of the cross" following the European Court of Human Right's ruling against her, according to a Christian Concern press release.

Shirley Chaplin Shirley Chaplin is one of four UK Christians who went to the European Court of Human Rights after their employers did not allow them to express their Christian identity in the work-place.

The press release reports that only one of the cases, brought by British Airways employee Nadia Eweida, won her case, after the court ruled that BA had acted unlawfully in preventing her from wearing her cross as part of a dress code. In Shirley's case, the court held that whilst it acknowledged that wearing a cross on a chain around her neck was a manifestation of her faith, balancing the competing interests of her employer with her own rights meant that the interference was justified.

Christian Concern said the court relied on grounds of health and safety, a theme that flowed from a similar reasoning of the UK courts. However, health and safety reasons were not cited by the hospital in support of their original decision on Shirley's wearing of the cross.

Shirley welcomes the UK Prime Minister's tweet of this [week] in which he said:
"Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld—people shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs."

This followed comments made by Mr. Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions in June 2012, when he said:
"I fully support the right of people to wear religious symbols at work; I think it is a vital religious freedom. If it turns out that the law has the intention as has come out in this case, we will change the law and make it clear that people can wear religious emblems at work."

Yet, in spite of this, Christian Concern reports the UK government contested all the cases at a hearing in September 2012, and so the positions of the Prime Minister and the Government appear to be at odds.

Following [this week's] judgment, Shirley Chaplin said:
"I'm just an ordinary person. A nurse. I loved my job and can't believe that the UK government said to the European Court that the cross is not a Christian symbol. I am pleased that the court recognizes the wearing of my cross is a manifestation of my Christian faith, and that the Prime Minister supports the freedom to wear the cross. But I don't understand why the Government fought against me. If the Prime Minister really believes in the freedom to wear the cross he now needs to act swiftly to protect that freedom.

"I'm motivated to do my job because of my Christian faith. Being forced to choose between my job and my faith is not something anyone should have to face. The fact the Government said to the European Court that my religious freedom was protected because I was free to resign and find another job is laughable."

Shirley was also concerned that the health and safety grounds relied upon by the courts do not appear to be uniformly applied by the hospital. Muslims are permitted to wear hijabs, and Sikhs are allowed to wear bangles, and so the hospital appears to have singled out Christians for unequal treatment.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented:
"We applaud the court's recognition that the wearing of a cross is a valid expression of the Christian faith, and are pleased for Nadia in her victory.

However, the judgment in Shirley's case is based on an incorrect understanding of the health and safety arguments. There are many more cases which are likely to be brought by Christians seeking the courts to make a ruling on what should be a very simple and straightforward matter. We therefore call upon the Prime Minister to follow through on his comments about the cross, and clarify the law once and for all."

"I also find it unacceptable that the hospital appears to have applied an unequal approach to health and safety matters, clearly discriminating against Christians. I ask the Prime Minister to initiate a full investigation, so that Christians who work in the emergency services can wear the cross safely, without danger or risk to others, and not fear disciplinary action."

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