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.


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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  • Comment number 1767.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1766.

    Rainbow in the Dark
    The Christian religion is non violent and preaches peace


    I always laugh when I hear phrases saying "our religion is peaceful"
    It always reminds me of the film "Mars Attacks"
    There has never been a peaceful religion

    Ah. Wrong. Don't mix all faiths together. Quakers (Christian) are CO for instance. There are many more...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1765.

    I would respect the self-professed "atheist" or "secularist" militants more if they were honest and come clean: they are in fact anti-Christian.

    They are not pro-evolution (which most knows nothing about), not just dawkins worshippers, and not just anti-religion.

    Just show some dignity and come clean about being anti-Christian, proclaim the bigotry, not just ignorant and incorrect bible quotes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1764.

    One (minor) victory and three defeats for the Christian far-right - and four shining examples of why most of us wouldn't go near a church for love nor money.

    These cases will simply dissuade employers from hiring Christians in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1763.

    Christianity is a direct copy of the Mithraic religion that was 200 years its predecessor. You can look in up in the Encyclopedia of World Religions. Mithra died for the sins of humanity, had 12 apostles, a last supper. You must already know that there are over 200 direct contradictions in the New Testament alone. Please don't believe a religion just because it is commonly accepted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1762.

    1733. Fred Bloggs
    "How precisely is a non gay person supposed to offer sensible sex therapy advice to a gay couple?"

    In the same way my counselor friend offers advice and help to bereaved children even though she was never a bereaved child herself.
    It's called training, coupled with a sense of empathy necessary to do such a job. Sadly it would seem a Christian had no empathy in this case!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1761.

    1743.Here s hoping
    @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"

    equally you know very little about christianity - the bible says not to wear jewellery, or place great meaning on it, or be proud of being christian. peter denial does not equal crosses

  • rate this

    Comment number 1760.

    "You do realise i'm joking?"
    ~chuckles~ yes, sorry if I overplayed the straight man in the joke :)

    "The swastika is a religious symbol, still plainly displayed in Hindu temples"
    Not disagreeing, the point I was making in 1709 was that there was a connection between Christianity & the Nazi which 1665.chinkinthearmour claimed there was not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1759.

    While I agree with the other judgements I do question whether Mr Mc Farlane was not just being honest in admiting that he would have difficulty in advising a gay couple on their sexual relations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1758.

    I will be negatively rated for this comment but - I am a Christian, and have no objection to gay marriage OR gay relationships for that matter, don't wear a cross, and have respect for your views, even if you choose to be an atheist, Sikh, follow Islam or any religion.
    90% of Christians I know are the same - these people are extreme examples, as Abu Quatada is an extreme example of a moslem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1757.

    answer is no, it is human nature to someone to defend themself against what they perceive as a threat, which is why humanity will rightly so never get along

  • rate this

    Comment number 1756.

    I just can't wait to see a world where religion has been completely wiped out and humanity lives for one another. Sadly that won't be in my lifetime but physicists has suggested it could be as close to 200 years time. What a better future our childrens children have to look foward to than this medieval bile we keep hearing about. It's not 1402!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1755.

    Personally, I don't believe in exemptions from law on religious grounds. But then again I don't believe that good Law requires exemptions. Poor Law reinforces the premise that there's one law for some and another for most. We also need to get away from legislating against the majority because of how a small minority of people would act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1754.

    If the quran does not state that women should be kept hidden, why are muslims so adamant it's part of their religion and that this dress code must be strictly adhered to? In this country, if you are ethnic, you can do whatever you like, and we must allow it, as it's part of the ethnic culture and should be celebrated, yet if a christian does the same, they should be burned at the stake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1753.

    1685 "Marriage in this country derives from the Christian faith"

    No, it doesn't. People were getting married in this country before the Christian calendar started (meaning BC). People have been getting married before Judaism was dreamt up and there has been archaeological evidence of marriage preceding the allegedly 6000 year old Earth. Marriage isn't an Abrahamic institution at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1752.

    4 Minutes ago

    If your "conscience" goes against the law of the land, or your job description, then you shouldn't have that job in the first place

  • rate this

    Comment number 1751.

    Just a quote from Mark Twain

    Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool

  • rate this

    Comment number 1750.

    Mr McFarlane said: "There should be allowances taken into account whereby individuals like me can actually avoid having to contradict their very strongly-held Christian principles." Replace the word "Christian" for racial; sexual; druidic; or any other beliefs to see how nonsensical this is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1749.

    They took down a cross that had been in a church for 50 years in Cornwalll. All in the name of upsetting someone"

    Really? citation please. a cross was removed at Carleton Crematorium in Blackpool, but this was because the crematorium is used by more than just christians. christians being the minority who dont have a monopoly on death or cremation

  • rate this

    Comment number 1748.

    As an atheist I agree with the ECHR. Religion should be a matter of individual conscience and a cross, hijab, turban, bangle etc is an expression of identity NOT an attempt to convert others. My wife wears a small cross which she says gives her comfort in a world which is pretty horrible to her (and on that note, she also believes there is nothing Christian whatsoever about hatred of gay people).


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