Crossing the government

This one seems pretty cut and dried.

The British government asserts that Christians have no right to wear a cross or crucifix at work and is eager to prove it in court.

The case was initiated by two British women Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, after they were punished for refusing to take off their religious symbols.

via Cross to bear? UK denies Christians right to wear crucifix — RT.

According to reports, the British government is arguing that since wearing a cross is not a requirement of the Christian faith, the government and/or the women’s employers are not violating the women’s religious freedom by forbidding them to wear the tiny ornaments. There is some speculation that the prohibition is motivated by a desire to punish the Catholic church for its opposition to the government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage.

This stinks like leftover cat food. Much as I’d like a secular state, I like liberty better. And there’s just no way liberty can co-exist with the principle that it’s ok to single out certain forms of self expression and suppress them based on the religious viewpoints they express. Europe has lived under the dominion of the various Christian governments for centuries, and I can understand the backlash. But an extremist state is still an extremist state no matter which extreme it’s swinging towards. The middle ground, where equal liberty is shared by all, is the right place to be.

[UPDATE: As many people have pointed out, there’s more to the story than it first appeared. The issue isn’t whether Christians can be singled out for removal of their religious jewelry, but whether they can claim a religious exemption for jewelry that would otherwise be a violation of their employer’s dress code, for health or other reasons. The story still stinks, but for other reasons than I first concluded. I’m adding the Martyr Envy tag to this one.]


  1. Hunt says

    You’re right, of course. What are they thinking? It’d be even worse if it’s true that it’s in retaliation to Catholic opposition to same sex marriage. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  2. Pris says

    Hmm. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

    One of the women was a flight attendant. She was asked to cover her cross. Flight attendants are required to wear a uniform. If there is a regulation that states that necklaces are not allowed, I don’t think crosses should get an exception. If other necklaces are allowed and a necklace with a cross isn’t, then that’s discrimination.

    The second woman is a nurse. Nurses are not allowed to wear rings and dangly jewelry. As it is an infection hazard. Just because the infection hazard you insist on wearing is a religious symbol doesn’t mean you are exempt from the regulations. In this case no necklaces are allowed, so no discrimination occurred.

  3. Roger says

    I think you have this all a bit wrong. This stems from a number of cases which have all been found against the religious types in recent years, and which are now being appealed to the European courts.
    The issue is not the ability of employers to ban employees from wearing crosses at work, but rather that employees are not able to claim religious exemption from workplace dress codes. As I understand it the government (and also incidentally the archbishop of Canterbury) are saying that since wearing a cross is not a requirement of the christian religion, there does not need to be a religious exemption from rules which, say, do not allow any jewellery to be worn at work. This would contrast with a Sikh, wearing a turban, which is a requirement of their religion, and therefore would be subject to a religious exemption to a rule not allowing headwear.

  4. Ian says

    Yes it probably is cut and dried, but in the opposite direction to what you state.

    The Chaplin case is about health and safety policy in a National Health Service hospital. The policy, quite reasonably, says no dangling jewelery because of the risk of cross infection betwen patients and the danger to staff wearing such items when dealing with patients. The cross is irrelevent, the policy wouldn’t allow a chain with nothing on it, or one with a pink unicorn pendant.

    The Eweida case is about British Airways (BA) company dress code for uniformed staff. As I understand it, she was offered, and refused, an alternative non-uniform position. The resulting employment tribunal found against her, but actually led to BA changing their uniform policy and allowing a religious or charity symbol to be worn as a lapel pin.

    I’m no fan of our present government in terms of their actions on some religious matters, sending out bibles to schools, encouraging faith schools, etc. but in these cases they are just defending the status quo, not trying to impose a new ban. The common link betwen the two cases seems to be that both are trying to establish a new right for the wearing of a cross to be regarded as an essential part of being a Christian.

  5. tonylloyd says

    The language of the news reports is (deliberately?) slightly misleading. There is no question (at all) of the UK government allowing discrimination against any religion.

    The assertion is that the Christian right to wear a cross does not over-ride other regulations put in place by an employer so long as those regulations are intended to advance a lawful purpose. That’s quite a lot of protection:

    If an employer says “no crosses”, simpliciter then they are in big trouble under UK law, and the UK government fully supports that.

    If an employer tries to ban crosses by artificially broadening the regulation then they are still in big trouble. Eg banning crosses by means of banning jewellery, knowing that this disadvantages Christians (crosses) more than, say, Muslims (cloth burkas). Again the UK government fully supports that.

    Only if you have a reasonable regulation (such as “no hanging jewellery”) for a lawfull purpose (to prevent accidents when patients grab at things) is the action lawful.

    This is, precisely, what happened in one of the cases being protested. A hospital banned loose hanging jewellery because of concerns with patients grabbing the jewellery and causing injury. This is perfectly proper and it’s a bit of a stretch to characterise it as “banning the cross” (especially as the hospital suggested that she continue to wear a cross, one pinned to her uniform, just not the particular one she had previously been wearing).

  6. tonylloyd says

    Oh, the bit about religious requirement is that if it is a religious requirement then employers are allowed to exempt certain employees from the rules.

    The police force, for examples, exempts Sikhs from the requirement to wear a helmet instead of a turban, because the truban is a religious requirement. If it wasn’t a religious requirement then the police could be sued by any officer who didn’t want to wear a helmet on the basis that they were discriminating against non-sikhs.

    I think this is where all the trouble started. Because there are so few specific religious requirements of Christianity that need special treatement the Christians are getting all upset because they don’t get any special treatment. So they invent persecution.

  7. sailor1031 says

    This is not what it is all about. These are two well-known cases. In Ewedia’s case sh insisted on her right to violate her employer’s dress policy by wearing a cross. British Airways, the employer, disciplined her. She complained to the Tribunal that handles such complaints and lost. Shirley Chaplin was a nurse who insisted on her right to violate workplace safety and hygiene requirements by wearing a crucifix. She got disciplined too. She appealed to the tribunal and lost. Both cases then went to court, supported by a militant christian organization, where they both lost again.

    This case in the European Court is their last roll of the dice. I can only speak from knowledge of catholicism, but the UK Government is quite correct that there is no requirement in RCC Inc to wear a cross or crucifix, except (possibly?) for clerics and nuns in full dress uniform. There have been no human rights violations here. These cases are being exploited to feed the growing sense of victimhood of a few shrill religious militants.

  8. sailor1031 says

    oh and this has nothing to do with the UK Government “wanting to get back at RCC Inc” over same sex marriage. Cameron’s nose couldn’t be further up the pontifical fundament than it is now, but even his shoddy administration has to defend UK law.

  9. Iain says

    To be fair, both the BA uniform policy at the time and the dress code for nurses forbade any jewelery, not just crosses.

    The BA job has a uniform and IMO they are quite within their rights to have rules about how you are allowed to accesorise that at work.

    And the NHS rules about what nurses are allowed to wear are about hygiene on wards.

    This isn’t a religious freedom issue at all however much the Christians want to make it one – and the most senior cleric in the UK’s established church agrees with the government. Also the court actions began under the previous government who had the same position so trying to link it to Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage is disingenuous at best.

    • prochoice says

      No, the 2 cross-wearing cases are mixed up with one of an employee sacked because he refused to marry a homosexual couple, and some kind of professional counselor who unnerved his clients with Jesus talk, and also did not accept a male-male couple for counseling in the first place.
      The BBC, linked to from, has some info downbelow, other newspapers do jump on the statement of the lawyer on the religion side, and make lots of fuss that the British government sides with its own authorities(!), who dismissed these individuals when they did not fulfill their work contracts.
      EU court cases are often grouped according to country, and very little according to topic – one of the sources of ridiculous precedences in the short life of the European Community.

  10. TheTrueScotsman says

    The issue at stake is actually quite an interesting one. We have various anti-discrimination policies for employers in the UK. They point out where employers can or cannot discriminate on gender, race, etc but it includes religion too. Unfortunately it allows certain minority groups to use claimed religious requirements as an exemption from rules which otherwise would apply to all.

    For instance the Sikh community have the right to wear turbans or bracelets and employers are not allowed to discriminate unless on really exceptional safety grounds. The same with Muslims and Hijabs. The Christians are essentially claiming the same right for crucifix wearing.

    The Govt would claim that these exemptions are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights to which the UK is a signatory.

    What these individuals are demanding is that they too get special exemptions for wearing a crucifix and that employers must accommodate this “requirement”. So far they have taken the employers to court to several appeals and lost.

    The Govt has now come out and said that if these individuals submit their claim to the European Court of Human Rights – which they are fully entitled to do – the Govt will defend their own actions in not including the exemption for crucifixes in any anti-discrimination legislation.

    It is really chock-full of ironies. The Conservative Govt (usually with the right-wing, pro-Xtian press) often demonises the European Convention on Human Rights and wants the UK to remove itself from the requirements. Now that same right-wing press is demanding the Tory Govt accede to the same European laws!.

    The left-wing liberal ideals of tolerance and anti religious-discrimination laws designed to protect minorities in the workplace are being used by right-wing Xtians to claim the same rights.

    It is like something that Jonathan Swift would have loved.

  11. Coral says

    Just to chime in in agreement with the previous couple of comments.

    This is not about the government trying to micro-manage the kind of adornments people wear. It’s about a couple of employees who called discrimination when asked to comply with their terms of employment with regards to jewellery — it just so happened that in their cases the items of jewellery in question were also religious symbols.

  12. G.Shelley says

    The national secular society has a different spin

    Essentially, as others have suggested, all the government are arguing is that neither they or other companies must make specific exceptions for Christians to ignore uniform rules or health and safety laws.
    You could probably reasonably disagree over whether it is government’s place to say if something is an essential expression of faith, or more of a fashion item, or indeed if religion is such a special case that people who want to wear religious jewelry should be treated differently to any other person who wanted to wear a chain, but in either case, the religious have been misrepresenting the case.

    • Jer says

      You could probably reasonably disagree over whether it is government’s place to say if something is an essential expression of faith, or more of a fashion item, or indeed if religion is such a special case that people who want to wear religious jewelry should be treated differently to any other person who wanted to wear a chain

      Well, no, not really. Just look at what the religion itself teaches. The wearing of a yarmulke is a religious obligation for certain sects of Judaism. The wearing of special undergarments is a religious obligation for members of the LDS faith. Demanding that members of those religions dress in a particular way that ignores their religious obligations would be outside the bounds in a pluralistic society.

      The wearing of a cross – or even of a rosary – as part of your daily garb is NOT a religious obligation for Roman Catholics. There may be Christian sects for whom it is, and in that case they’d probably win their court battles. But in the case of Roman Catholics it is not the case that there is any particular clothing or other symbolism that they are expected to wear as part of their religious obligations. Asking them to conform to established dress codes and/or safety codes is NOT outside the bounds of a pluralistic society. In fact, giving them special exemptions in this regard means you might as well give up the safety code altogether because now it’s a matter of personal expression and not religious obligation as to who gets an exception – why should the Catholic get an exception for a cross and I can’t have an exception for my peace symbol necklace or Harry Potter Hogwarts robes?

      There’s a very easy way to draw this line – look at what the religions themselves say as to the obligations of the members of that faith.

      • Dalillama says

        Demanding that members of those religions dress in a particular way that ignores their religious obligations would be outside the bounds in a pluralistic society.

        In the case of uniforms, I can see allowing such an exemption, but hygiene regulations at a hospital and similar rules put into place for safety reasons should trump religious commandments in all cases.

  13. says

    Well, I honestly fail to see how the wearing of religious emblems can be seen as anything but straight-up passive-aggressive antagonism.

    Religious people wear emblems for one reason, and one reason alone: To assert their imagined superiority over those who do not share their delusions. To emphasise their status as members of an in-group — and, by extension, everyone else’s status as non-members. To draw battle lines. To say “I am in this group, but more importantly, you are not.”

    So when a christian says something like “If you really feel offended by a little piece of metal, you have problems”, they are being disingenuous. Because they are wearing that little piece of metal with the specific purpose of offending non-christians.

    Christians are free to wear crosses in Church, if they like. But out in the real world, they have to abide by the same laws as everyone else.

  14. magistramarla says

    LOL – this is OT, but I used to teach with a Jewish lady who collected crosses because she thought that they were beautiful pieces of jewelry. She always wore a star of David pendant necklace. I was always amused when she paired it with a cross. We taught in a red-neck Texas school, and it was highly amusing to watch the other teachers when she walked down the hall. Heads nearly exploded!

  15. says

    The UK government isn’t banning religious expression, it’s staying the hell out of it in this case. If a business has no exceptions for optional religious jewelry in its dress code, the government isn’t going to intervene, however if it is a mandatory part of the religion, they would have intervened.

    Sounds as good as anyone, especially a wretched hive of secularists like FTB, has a reason to expect.

  16. sailor1031 says

    “…especially a wretched hive of secularists like FTB,…”

    Sorry gang, I think this super-intelligent observer and controller of the passing scene has found us out. Oh noes!!!

    OTOH maybe he just needs to get his swollen head back into that ‘aperture’ he briefly managed to pull it out of. Using ‘aperture science’ of course. If that don’t work try surgical lube….

  17. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Using ‘aperture science’ of course. If that don’t work try surgical lube….

    That’s Black Mesa Surgical Lube®.

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