Monday, 12 March 2012

British government to argue against right to wear crosses at work

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Nadia Eweida has been fighting over the right to wear a
cross at work since 2006
In its submission to the European Court of Human Rights in a case over the right to wear crosses in the workplace, the UK government will argue that wearing a cross is not a requirement of the Christian faith, and is therefore not something a believer can insist on wearing at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of belief and conscience.

The case has been brought to the ECHR by Nadia Eweida, the British Airways worker who was suspended for refusing to remove a cross in 2006, and Shirley Chaplin, the Exeter nurse who ultimately quit nursing as a result of her dispute with Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust over her cross. Eweida and Chaplin are being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and their lawyers argue that the right to wear Christian symbols is not given the same protection as the right to wear symbols of other religions, such as the Muslim hijab or the Sikh kirpan.

In its submission to the court, revealed by the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, the British government argues that, since wearing a cross is not viewed as a required aspect of Christian belief, doing so does not constitute "manifestation" of the faith:
“The Government submit that… the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9, and…the restriction on the applicants' wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.

 “In neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith, still less one that is regarded (including by the applicants themselves) as a requirement of the faith.”
The government's submission has angered some Christians, with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, arguing that it will make believers more determined to wear religious symbols:
"The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate judgment of matters of theology and worship about which they can claim no expertise.

“The irony is that when governments and courts dictate to Christians that the cross is a matter of insignificance, it becomes an even more important symbol and expression of our faith.”
However, one believer who does not see the cross as an essential Christian symbol is the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Speaking in Rome, where he has been meeting the Pope, the Archbishop suggested that the cross "has become a religious decoration". Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, described his remarks as "unhelpful".
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