British Airways Christian employee Nadia Eweida wins case

 

Nadia Eweida: "I feel vindicated."

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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.

Analysis

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".

 

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  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1747.

    1671.Pork
    This is ridiculous! Muslim women have to wear hijabs as it says in the Koran.

    It does not.
    The Qur'an tells the male believers (Muslims) to talk to the wives of the Prophet Muhammad behind a hijab. This hijab was the responsibility of the men and not the wives of Prophet Muhammad.
    It was later distorted to match ethnic clothign traditions.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1746.

    @ james well christians and people of other faiths do not want to hear stories like "yeah we were so drunk this weekend" or i slept with this guy and hes not calling me back or "I totally pulled a hot woman" when we are at work but we do. We will not go to bosses and complain because we are more tolerant to non believers than they are to believers.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1745.

    It appears a Very strange ruling that I'm allowed to to do something in public but not in private. Does this mean that as long as it's public I am free to make offensive remarks about someones skin coloring, nationality or religious beliefs. I know that I'm being pedantic about the ruling but surely the remark of public private should be clarified

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1744.

    @1716

    Right.......

    Is that the same Bible that declares, in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 that raped woman must be forced to marry their rapist? Care to explain the morality of that one?

    The Bible was written by fallible human beings. It has good bits; it has bad bits. There was no divine authorship.

    It is a sign of the simple-minded that they love to be relieved of the obligation to think.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1743.

    @26 AshleyB9
    You must know little about Christianity. Peter denied Jesus, which is a lesson not to be ashamed and hide your faith. Wearing a cross is the way of declaring you follow Jesus. Ms Eweida is not an exhibitionist for wanting to wear her cross outside her clothes, like many other christians also do. I hardly think proclaiming this in a Christian country is being unreasonable.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1742.

    Finally some assertion of values from the long-lost European, if I may say, civilization - well on its way to becoming a reservoir of a militant Euro-Islam. After all jobs are perverted by the so-called liberals and libertarians, there will be little choice for decent people with principles but to stand up and fight for their faith. Don't forget it was Christianity that made the West what it is.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1741.

    Women do not have to wear Hijabs. The phrase is similar to that in the new testament "women should dress modestly". And, like the New Testament, much more is said about how men should honour women and respect them. Mohamed's wife, PBUH, ran her own business before and after marriage.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1740.

    Why is this HYS so much a heated discussion abt Christian faith (and all wrong myths around it)?

    This was a case about freedom of faith in current society. It applies to *all* faiths equally.

    Nobody should be forced to foster what's against one's conscience nor should anybody impose it on others.

    Showing one's faith publicly is not imposing anything, whether it's Muslims, atheists, Buddhists...

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1739.

    How did the Islington case even get this far? She was asked to perform a secular ceremony (the rules of which at that time did not even allow religious references!). She was also bound by the Council's equal opps policy to treat everone equally, but chose to discriminate. Sacking her was correct and this ruling confirms it!

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1738.

    Can't we all just get along?

  • Comment number 1737.

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

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1736.

    1702.Nic121
    "An important question for Christians on HYS. . . Would you tolerate one of your work colleagues displaying an inverted cross. . . symbolising their satanic views."

    This Christian thinks that would be fine. Petty intolerance is the kind of thing that gets Satanism a bad name. And Christianity too. Perhaps they'd get less grumbling from the customers thrown in as well!

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1735.

    i'm sorry two of those decisions are wrong, no one should be forced to do civil ceremony if they dont want to and no one should be forced to council people they dont believe should be in a relationship, there are plenty of other people who can do it so why make someone who is otherwise good at their jobs do something against their conscience

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1734.

    Interesting companies are allowed to have dress codes that discriminate against those with visible tattoos, and piercings. Next case for the 'freedom of expression' lawyers.

    Keep your religion out of my workplace ! Athiests have rights not to be subjected to superstitious c**p. Can I wear my shrunken head collection ? My Jedi cloak ? Rabbits foot ? Bring black cat ? Statue of the Virgin Mary ?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1733.

    "a marriage counsellor fired after saying he might object to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples"

    How precisely is a non gay person supposed to offer sensible sex therapy advice to a gay couple?

    This is ridiculous, it's nothing to do with equality.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1732.

    The usual suspects with a rabidly fanatic christian fundamentalist law firm behind them!

    Religion poisons everything and is like a cancer on humanity

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1731.

    1685.I forgot my sign on again
    "Marriage in this country derives from the Christian faith"

    No it doesn't. I am married and had an entirely non-religious ceremony. People in this country have been united in marriage for millenia - long before christianity came to this country.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1730.

    But there is still a hierarchy of clothing rights with religion at the top. What if a non religious person wanted to wear a necklace that was special to them. I doubt they would be allowed to because it is not in deference to some higher power. I'd like to see that tested in the courts.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1729.

    Religious people believe and work for free

    The anti religious people get paid by the government etc
    They will say whatever their paymaster TELLS them to

    This is why religions have lasted for 2000+ years. outlasting every organisation and empire on the planet

    Won't stop them trying again and again though

    ...and failing again and again

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1728.

    "1159.Gordon Docherty
    1 Hour ago
    ... so, even science now accepts it can't disprove God"

    Science has more important things to do than worry about a fictitious being (who apparently created everything (including all those things you REALLY hate, but we won't mention that) around 4000BC); like searching for the most fundamental particles in the universe and understanding how they work.

 

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