There is an interesting case working its way through the European Court of Human Rights. It concerns whether Christians have the right to wear crucifixes to work. Two British women, one who worked for British Airways and the other a nurse, were told by their employers that their crosses did not conform to the uniforms that their professions required. The British government supports their employers, saying that wearing crosses is not a ‘requirement’ of the Christian faith, unlike the Sikh turban or the Muslim hijab, which have apparently been granted exemptions on those grounds.
The women are basing their claim on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights that says “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Wearing a cross seems like a trivial thing. It has little effect on anyone else and is a relatively unobtrusive symbol. But at what point does one draw the line at allowing religious symbolism to trump other considerations? And which religions’ symbols have the right to be granted exemptions?
I am ambivalent about this. The “Who cares? Let’s live-and-let-live” part of me says that we should let small things like this go. But the other part of me knows that religious people are insatiable in their demands for special treatment, and granting one exemption simply leads to demands for more exemptions.