• Wearing of religious symbols at work ‘to be protected’

  • 12 Jul 2012
  • Comments 17 comments

The law could be changed to enshrine the right to wear religious symbols such as crosses in the workplace, the prime minister has said.

David Cameron made the statement during an exchange at Prime Minister’s Question Time, when he was asked about the case of Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was barred from wearing a crucifix while working at Heathrow Airport.

Eweida is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights, and her case is due to be heard in September.

Conservative MP David Davis described the airline’s refusal to allow Eweida to wear her cross as a “disgraceful piece of political correctness”, and asked the prime minister why the government was opposing her appeal.

But in response, Cameron said that he was fully supportive of employees’ right to wear religious symbols at work, saying “I think it is an absolutely vital freedom.”

He continued: “What we will do is that if it turns out that the law has the intention [of banning the display of religious symbols in the workplace], as has come out in this case, then we will change the law and make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work.”

Eweida, a Pentecostal Christian, was sent home from her job on BA’s check-in desks in 2006 after she refused to remove or cover up the crucifix around her neck, which the airline said was in breach of its uniform policy.

But she lost her religious discrimination claim at employment tribunal – a decision that was upheld by both the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in 2010.

Although Eweida argued that BA had allowed Sikh employees to wear turbans and Muslim workers to wear hijab head coverings, the courts agreed with her employer that the crucifix was not a similar “requirement” of her faith.

BA has since amended its policy to allow “a faith or charity symbol” to be worn with its uniform.

Eweida is joined in her legal fight by Shirley Chaplin, who lost a similar discrimination claim against her employer, the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals NHS Trust.

The nurse was told that her crucifix was in breach of the trust’s dress code, which banned the wearing of necklaces on hospital wards for safety reasons.

The prime minister’s latest comments are the first suggestion that people of faith will be given legal protection to wear religious symbols at work – regardless of the outcome of the European Court case.

Last year, a group of senior bishops raised concerns that Christians were being unfairly discriminated against or sidelined in the workplace, while staff of other faiths were being treated more sensitively.

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Comments (17)
  • Constitutionally we are not a Christian country , we are a country governed by secular law. To call us a Christian country implise that Christian theology underpins UK law. While I applaude thi sdecission, I try in vain to remember anytime a Christian has support my right as a Pagan and Witch to wear my discreet Pentacle.

  • At long last.... David Cameron has stood up and been counted. Can we hope the pendulum of PC is now swinging towards Christians having the same rights as other religions or those with none?   Can we please jettison 'winterval' and all those other ridiculous PC gone mad edicts and return to Christmas?   I don't see Eid etc being renamed to prevent 'offence' to other religions.

  • I agree that the courts do appear to show a preference for allowing more flexibility for other faiths than for Christians.  The problem here was that Eiweida herself confirmed that her cross was not an obligatory part of her faith.  However, the judgments do show ignorance about what is obligatory for other faiths...many Muslim women (including myself) do not consider the wearing of a headscarf to be compulsory.

  • I am a Christian and have worn a cross all my life.  I do not see this as a requirement of my religion or to demonstrate to others my beliefs purely for my own comfort. I do feel however that common sense should prevail, as others have commented.  If there is a health and safety risk fine I would not wear it; if it does not comply with the company dress code why?... is everyone treated the same and is the rule being consistently implemented? That is where the issue lies are people of all cultures and religions being treated fairly and consistently?

  • Have your say...Thank goodness common sense  is being used at long last. this has been another example of policed incorrectness gone mad. I believe changes in the law will help address the inequalities that Christains feel. Other faiths too will feel that the law is more applied equally. I am not practicing Christian .<br/>Well done Mr Cameron for being bold and standing up against the stupidity of the  last government

  • The employee in the case in question Eweida was not prevented from wearing a cross. She was just required to comply with the company dress code and to not have the cross hanging outside of her uniform.<br/><br/>Similar rules applied to all forms of jewelry regardless of their religious significance or otherwise.<br/><br/>This case has been pushed and misrepresented by certain sectors of the religious community for their own purposes and to give the artificial impression of persecution.<br/><br/>There are already ample laws to protect the rights of those with religious or non religious views. But such rights have to be balanced against health and safety and the rights of employers to have dress codes.

  • As long as it doesn't pose a health & safety risk I can see no harm in this.  Could the cross have been worn tucked in while at work?  We should all be allowed to show our faith openly.

  • Common sense must prevail in this matter.  Wearing a crucifix or similar accoutrement cannot be considered innappropriate when it is unlikely to offend the mainstream. However, one has to consider the importance of whether it is safe to display such items.  A piece of dangly jewellery over machinery is a chocking hazard and therefore must be concealed or removed.  Headwear which obscures vision could be a hazard irrespective of the religious significance.  However, items which signify extremism, even if not a safety hazard pe se should rightfully be removed.

  • Hi People Management,<br/><br/>I am Christian and not ashamed to let other people know as a part of MY cultural identity. I am also aware that we need to be sensitive to other people's point of view. As we are our a melting pot of diverse cultures and beliefs. <br/><br/>My concern is how sensitive is the law and polices which govern our organisations are explicitly targeting Christians and reinforcing divisions in our communities . If Community Cohesion is really supposed to what it is intended to -then employers and politcians need to think again.It will only be matter of time that the powers behind this shift to discriminate against Christians will be exposed in the public domain.<br/><br/>I hope that the government revises its policy with immediate effect. As last summers unrest around the country is an indicator  concerning the social inequalities in the UK.

  • Have your say...  As a Catholic, I always wear either a crucifix or St Christopher on a chain and would never remove it except for safety reasons (ie -may get caught in machinery etc).  All too often, Christians are being penalised and prevented from acknowledging their faith openly when it is not only accepted but encouraged for those of other faiths to do so.  I was raised to be tolerant and accepting of others beliefs - but should this not work both ways?

  • Finally - some common sense!!!

  • Some sense at last... why in a so called Christian country, do Christians have less rights than those of other religions or those who have no believes at all !?

  • Finally.  As a Catholic I don't always wear a cross.  However, when I do it is for religious purposes and something that is important to me.  I've been following the various cases concerned with the wearing of religious insignia, and I was getting concerned at the, well almost 'discrimination' that the Christians are being subject to.  <br/><br/>We have done and continue to do, a great job in this country of accepting other faiths and practices that come with the.  But we have began to neglect the faith that until recently has been in the majority in UK.  We should be protecting all the faiths, not just those incoming to UK (hope I haven't offened anyone).

  • I am not a practising Christian but I live in a christian country and I'm fed up with the political correctness.This is a christian country and although tolerance is fine, we must not forget our own needs. I will not send Christmas cards which will read: happy holiday! And I will not work on Christmas Day or at Easter.

  • I don't agree with banning religious symbols in the work place as such. However if a Company's dress code states no necklaces to be worn for safety reasons then all should comply whilst at work no matter what their faith. I can understand that a requirement of a person's faith is a different matter and this should be respected as far as possible.

  • This lady was never stopped from wearing a religious symbol.  She was not allowed to have it dangling as it posed a health & safety risk because of the nature of her role which could have caused her an injury.  No-one was stopping her wearing it tucked into her clothing.

  • First sensible thing i have heard in a long time...how respectful of people's basic human rights such as that of religious belief. Well done Mr Cameron!