Should Christians have the right to wear crucifixes to work?


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.

Comments

  1. MichaelD says

    Unless there’s a serious reason not to I don’t know that I have a problem with it. For example if you were working around machines it might be dangerous to wear something that might dangle from your neck. In these cases though I don’t know that its a big deal either way to me anyway.

  2. Dan-o says

    I am assuming the cross is being worn on the outside of their uniform rather than the inside. Why you would not wear it on the inside s a question only they can answer. I hav never understood how companies an allow women’s faces to be covered when in a normal work place as it makes it hard to read facial expressions. Facial expressions play a big part in face to face meetings when trying to decide if your plan is being accepted.

  3. Gordon says

    In almost every job they can wear their cross, what they want is a special privilege when the employer has a “no jewelry” policy.

    They do not deserve special rights

  4. Sigmund says

    It seems a strangely trivial case to me, especially when ‘religious’ items of clothing such as hijabs and turbans are not banned in the same country.

  5. StevoR says

    I’d rather they didn’t but I guess they do have the right to if that’s what they really want to do provided they’re not using the crucifixes to harrass and intimidate others in the workplace.

    Of course, if they’re the big full-size variety that are huge and heavy and are going to be damaging the walls and ceilings then, NO! Occ Health & Safety reasons if nothing else. ;-)

  6. Kevin says

    I don’t care whether it is required by the religion. It should not be the governments role to decide what is and is not apart of the religion. Instead, I think that this should be treated on par with political speech. If I am allowed to wear a pin that shows I’m a Democrat, then they should be allowed to wear a necklace that shows that they are a Christian. If not, then the employer has a consistent and valid uniform policy of not allowing personal statements during work.

  7. says

    I agree that the wearing of crucifixes seems a small thing, especially is other, more noticeable, religious markers are allowed in the workplace. It brings me no comfort when I see a medical workers, for example, wearing a cross, but I don’t see a good reason to ban them from wearing it – if it indicates a likely problem, then I am for-warned, if not, then I am just stewing in my own prejudices.

    I would disagree with the assertion that these workers being allowed to wear the crucifix (if that is the outcome of the case) amounts to special treatment – I would assume that members of other groups would be allowed to wear similar markers, necklaces, pendants, etc. If it was only religious symbols allowed, then that WOULD be special treatment, but if any ideological/identity symbol is allowed, then there’s no problem.

  8. Rory says

    I wasn’t sure what to make of this case either. If no jewelry is allowed, then I don’t necessarily feel like a cross warrants an exception. If any jewelry is allowed, then I don’t see why a cross would be particularly objectionable. And comparing it to a turban or a hijab seems like a bit of a non-sequitur to me, but I’ll allow as I may be mistaken on that one.

  9. Beth says

    IIRC, the issue is that some sorts of jewelry were banned and they wanted an exception allowing them to wear their religious jewelry. This isn’t quite the same thing as not allowing religious jewelry.

    Whether the ban on jewelry is appropriate and lawful, I don’t know. Assuming it is, then I don’t see a reason to grant an exemption for religious jewelry, such as crosses. OTOH, if I’m not recalling this correctly, and it was only religious jewelry that was banned, that does seem inappropiate. Banning all of some types of jewelry is one thing, banning jewelry due only to the symbolic meaning associated with it is another.

    I do disagree with your argument

    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.

    I don’t think that religious people are any more insatiable in their demands for special treatment than any other group of people would be in similar situations. This argument doesn’t hold for me because I read it as a slippery-slope argument and generally don’t find them convincing.

  10. mnb0 says

    Proselytizing in Europe is also part of freedom of speech; just like de-evangelizing. The decisive argument in Europe usually is if wearing ornaments prevent the employee to do his/her work properly. I bet that will decide the outcome of this case as well.

  11. RW Ahrens says

    Mostly, I don’t see a problem. Only two instances I can think of that should make a difference:

    1. Uniforms. Most organizations do not allow private decorations on uniforms, including jewelry. Other wise, they are not uniform!

    2. Workplace Safety. Working around machinery is often dangerous, and metal stuff around one’s neck is right up there with something that either get you entangled and strangled or electrocuted. I doubt that a religious artifact has the power to negate the laws of physics…

  12. says

    In a few cases, wearing religious insignia can be a problem. For example, if a cop or a judge wears a cross when dealing with the public on the job, there’s an implication that he’s letting his religious loyalty affect his on-the-job performance. A Christian facing such an official might think he’ll get special favors, while a Muslim or a Pagan might feel disfavored, or think he has less chance of stating his case and being treated fairly. Thus a Christian might be emboldened to press his case (possibly with appeals to shared doctrine), while a non-Christian might be more likely to give up trying to convince him.

    A person has a right to express his/her religious beliefs. But by the same token, a private company has the right to represent itself to the public, through its employees, without someone else’s personal preferences affecting the image they choose to present. And of course, public agencies have the OBLIGATION to so represent themselves.

    Besides, why are religious items suddenly a valid exception to an employer’s right to enforce a dress code? No one ever made a Federal case about having to wear suits and ties in the middle of July, or not being allowed to wear Sex Pistols pins or shirts; so why all of a sudden do we have to allow crosses or face-covering veils?

  13. Dalillama says

    This is exactly the case in these incidents, yes. The airline uniform prohibited all personal jewelry, and the employee was offered a transfer to a non-uniformed position, which she refused. The nurse’s cross was in violation of hospital sanitation and safety codes, as is any other type of dangling jewelry. She was, IIRC, told that she could have a lapel pin, but not the dangling necklace.

  14. Steve says

    But no other group is routinely shown such extreme deference. No other group is routinely consulted in everything as a matter of fact. No other group routinely gets exemptions in all kinds of laws. There is more than enough precedent that religious people already get special treatment and will continue to demand it.

  15. Steve says

    In that case it seems clear cut. No exemption for them.

    If they had explicitly banned only religious items, that wouldn’t be ok.

  16. Alverant says

    If no personal jewerly is allowed then there should be no special rights for religious jewerly. Would this case even go to trial if we were dealing with a jewish symbol or some other minority religion? How about necklaces with the insigna of their favorite sports team since sports is pretty close to a religion to some?

  17. Chrisj says

    Sigh.

    Please can we introduce some actual facts into the reporting of this story? One of the two cases in question is Eweida v BA; I can’t find a quick reference for the other, but it’s very similar and relates to a nurse.

    The women in question are/were both in jobs where their employer’s dress code forbids the wearing of any necklace outside their uniform (or any other dangling jewelery) for safety reasons. (Specifically, one is a potential hazard during an in-air emergency or while handling equipment/luggage, while necklaces are a known cross-contamination problem in hospitals.)

    Both women were told that if they wished to wear a cross and continue working, then a lapel pin or broach would be entirely acceptable, as it would not constitute a safety hazard, but chose to continue the legal battle for a special exception to the rules. The argument they’re making is that since certain groups do get special exceptions for items that are requirements of their religions (for example, BA allows Sikh aircrew to wear turbans rather than uniform headgear), they should be allowed to wear anything with a cross on it, even though Christianity doesn’t require them to wear a cross, never mind a particular piece of jewellery in the shape of one.

    So the story linked to is a pretty blatant piece of deliberate misdirection by the Torygraph; the cases simply aren’t about whether a cross can be worn or not. They’re about whether Christians should have the right to breach safety regulations (and potentially endanger lives) in order to wear one particular type of cross because they prefer that to other kinds. Both plaintiffs have explicitly refused offers to wear non-dangling crosses, or to wear necklaces underneath their uniforms – the way that thousands of other people in the same (and similar) professions do.

  18. ollie says

    Oh sure, there shouldn’t be any safety exceptions; no dangling jewelry means no dangling jewelry.

  19. Sigmund says

    Well if that is the case then they are in the wrong.
    Apparently, though, the answer to the original question is:
    Yes, Christians should be allowed to wear crucifixes, so long as they don’t contravene the dress code, but their right to wear symbols should receive no special treatment compared to non Christians.

  20. anne mariehovgaard says

    I agree – if by “in a similar situation” you mean “when they are used to always getting their way”

  21. Art says

    As I understand it a man in the EU was granted the right to have his official driver’s license picture taken with a colander on his head. As is, evidently, the right of all good Pastafarians. As I remember it his pictures came out with him looking quite fetching and distinguished.

  22. stonyground says

    Thanks chrisj @15, you saved me a job. I have been to lots of blogs that have reported the tabloid version of the story and I have posted a correction in the comments. There have been quite a few cases of Christians going to court claiming persecution backed by an organisation called the Christian Legal Centre. This organisation appears to have a 100% failure record.

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