British Airways Christian employee Nadia Eweida wins case


Nadia Eweida: "I feel vindicated."

Related Stories

A British Airways employee suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

Nadia Eweida took her case to the ECHR after BA made her stop wearing her white gold cross visibly.

The court said BA had not struck a fair balance between Ms Eweida's religious beliefs and the company's wish to "project a certain corporate image".

It ruled the rights of three others had not been violated by their employers.

But they said Ms Eweida's rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The four Christians had brought cases against the UK government for not protecting their rights but ministers, who contested the claims, argued that the rights of the employees were only protected in private.


Although Nadia Eweida's victory shows that Christians can see wearing a cross at work as part of behaving in accordance with their religion, the court's decision was based on special circumstances - including the fact that a discreet cross would not have adversely affected British Airways' public image.

It's perhaps more significant that Shirley Chaplin's case was dismissed, along with those of Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele. Today's judgement sets the legal seal on years in which traditionalist Christians have tried, and failed, to defend their values against secular ones in British courts.

The message coming from Strasbourg is that although people are entitled to hold religious views, that right is severely limited in the workplace when it comes into conflict with the rights of other people. The judgement also hands considerable discretion to employers to set reasonable policies and then insist that employees follow them whatever their religious beliefs.

Ms Eweida, 60, a Coptic Christian from Twickenham in south-west London, told the BBC she was "jumping with joy" after the ruling, adding it had "not been an easy ride".

British Airways said its uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to "wear symbols of faith" and that she and other employees had been working under these arrangements for the last six years.

It said Ms Eweida did not attend work for a period of time in 2006 while an internal appeal was held into her refusal to remove her cross but she remained a British Airways employee.

The British government was ordered to pay Ms Eweida 2,000 euros (£1,600) in damages and 30,000 euros (£25,000) costs.

A tribunal decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in the UK before she took her case to the ECHR.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "delighted" that the "principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld", adding that people "shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs".

The other cases involved nurse Shirley Chaplin, 57, whose employer also stopped her wearing necklaces with a cross, Gary McFarlane, 51, a marriage counsellor sacked after saying he might object to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples, and registrar Lillian Ladele who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

The four had made individual applications to the ECHR after losing separate employment tribunals but their cases were heard together.

Nadia Eweida, Lillian Ladele, Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane European judges passed judgment on four people who said they had suffered discrimination at work over their Christian beliefs

They argued their employers' actions went against articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protected their rights to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and prohibited religious discrimination.

Ms Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council, in north London, after saying she did not want to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. Her lawyers said the service could have been performed by other employees who were prepared to carry them out.

Gary McFarlane: "The lawyers will be considering what we do next"

ECHR judges said the council's action was legitimate as it was obliged to consider the rights of same-sex couples.

Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, which backed Ms Ladele's case, said: "What this case shows is that Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage are at risk of being left out in the cold."

Mr McFarlane, a Bristol relationship counsellor, worked for the Avon branch of national charity Relate but was sacked for gross misconduct in 2008 after saying on a training course he might have an objection to discussing sexual problems with gay couples.

The court said clients of the service where he was employed could not be allocated in accordance with their sexual orientation.

The evolution of the cross

Crucifix held aloft
  • The cross has not always been the main symbol of Christianity. In the early days of the Church in Rome many believers used the fish symbol to avoid detection
  • Crucifixion was also a method of execution for murderers and thieves, so some of the earliest depictions of Jesus on a cross were used by Pagans to mock early Christians
  • The use of the cross as a symbol became more overtly popular after the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in the 4th Century
  • It is now the most widely recognisable symbol of Christianity, used by many Christians as an aid to prayer as well as a symbol of their faith

Source: BBC Religion and Ethics

Mr McFarlane told the BBC that the decision in his case was "a regrettable judgment" for all faiths, not just Christians.

Ms Chaplin, from Exeter, was transferred to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital for failing to remove a confirmation crucifix on a small chain, which she had worn to work for 30 years.

The court said the decision was necessary to protect the health and safety of nurses and patients.

She said she thought British Christians would be "devastated" by the ruling.

The three plan to ask for their cases to go to appeal to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR.

Employment lawyers at firm Slater and Gordon said the decision did not change the situation that discriminating against a person purely because of their religion was against UK law.

They said it also showed that corporate image did not trump a person's right to reasonable expression of their religious belief.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and the Equalities Minister Maria Miller both welcomed the ruling.

Keith Porteous-Wood, of the National Secular Society, said: "Religious people who feel elements of their job go against their conscience can always find employment that better matches their needs. That is true religious freedom."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the judgment was "an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense".

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said the Equality Act "encourages employers to embrace diversity - including people of faith".


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    Religious views can by whimsical. People change their faith when it suits them, and change how they interpret passages from the bible, there are 38,000 Christian denominations - all with different views. McFarlane had special training in sex-therapy paid for by RELATE, so he would have known how to deal with everyone. Bigotry and homophobia lost today - as they should have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.


    Antarctica, I heard those penguins are pretty liberal and don't mind who you are or what you believe, as long as you don't try to eat them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    If Shirley Chaplin is not allowed to wear her chain and cross in hospital

    The hospital didn't say she couldn't wear the cross, they said she couldn't wear it round her neck on a chain that could be grabbed. she insisted it had to be worn in that way

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    481.Peter Rimmer
    Isn't there some inconsistency between the rulings on Eweida and Chaplin? Both chose to wear crosses and were dismissed. The European Court finds in favour of Eweida but not Chaplin.
    Do some research, lazybones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    If people want to wear religious symbols, that's fine by me (and I'm an atheist). Probably a good job JC didn't live in modern-day Texas. People would be wearing little silver electric chairs round their necks...

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    This is a good result for all.

    A shame it can't be applied to other religions who (like hoodies) regard their 'divine' right to carry knives, hide their identities and treat overs with total comtempt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    I am a consciousness trapped in a box with very few senses, smell, touch, sight, and smell. From that I make judgments about the world around me. I can only really judge that I am real. Given these limitations I must conclude I AM GOD ! everyone else is suspect as I know my senses can lie ! BA will not employ me, no biggy as I do nnot think they are real anyway... I will sue them though ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    @ RayCraig - 325: "When 11 Human Skeletons were dug out of the Dinosaur beds in Utah the theory of Evolution died"

    Don't let the fact that carbon dating put these unfossilised "fossils" at between 210 and 1450 years old. Google/Wiki Moab Man..... Or is that just conspiracy theory?

  • Comment number 559.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    Sensible decisions. Difficult to see how BA were going to get away with such blatant discrimination. Really tough decision on the relationship councillor, given "might" leading to being sacked(?) but if you are going to train for a job you have to fulfil the whole remit of that Job..... difficult.

  • Comment number 557.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    The important bit is further down: "All four lost separate employment tribunals relating to their beliefs"
    So, presumably they were found out to be the bunch of unreasonable troublemakers that they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    Thou shalt not make any graven image...

    2nd Commandment if memory serves. Surely a cross is a "graven image" by definition?

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    I am a humanist. The symbol of humanism is the 'Happy Humanist'. I would love to be able to wear this is as a symbol of my trying to live an ethical life on the basis of reason and humanity without belief in a supernatural being. Humanism is not a religion but is the code by which I try to live my live. Would this under law have the same standing as a religious symbol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    "503. Peter Nunn
    Leave your Christian identity at home as it is NOT required in the workplace.If you want to practice your religious beliefs do it on your own time."

    Would you advise the gay community to do the same with their sexuality? Would you advise members of ethnic minorities to do the same with their culture? I think not. So why should religion be different?

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    For such an apparently fervent Christian, I'm surprised Nadia Eweida hasn't heard of 'turn the other cheek'.It would have saved a lot of bother.

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    "I need to emigrate, you all make my head hurt."

    Not sure where you'd go if you're trying to avoid people squabbling about religion! Ideas anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    "213. 8-8-56

    Ms Eweida MUST go for every penny in composition she can get...try and teach BA discrimination doesn't stop at non-ethnic or Christianity.
    If Mr McFarlane isn't gay and has no experience of being gay, how can he possibly discuss sexual problems with gay couples?"
    It's the same principle, are you that stupid? Surely if you're incapable of doing the job you need to do a little work...

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    If your faith is not conducive with your career; then you have 2 choices.

    1. Change your career.

    2. Change your faith.


  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    In this country where our Queen is defender of the Christian faith employers tolerate Muslim female employees wearing the hijab, a symbol of their Islamic faith, yet some are intolerant about employees wearing symbols of their Christian faith. The historical consequences of such discrimination are recorded for all to read.


Page 73 of 101


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.