By Ria Novosti
The British government is trying to dictate to Christian workers to take off their crosses, British newspapers reported.
On Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone’s instructions, government lawyers will urge the European Court of Human Rights to dismiss the claims of Christian workers banned from displaying the symbol of their faith at work, The Daily Mail wrote.
The government’s position has received an angry response from prominent figures, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians, and added that it was a sign that Christianity was becoming sidelined, The Sunday Telegraph said.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition therefore stands against the Christian churches on a second battleground as the cabinet is already at loggerheads with the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches over its plans to legalize same-sex marriages – an idea vehemently opposed by church officials.
The situation also puts the government in conflict with its own equality body – the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The commission will have to argue in the same Strasbourg court test case that workers should be legally protected if they want to wear a symbol of their religious faith at work.
This spring, the European Court of Human Rights is poised to start considering the cases of British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, The Daily Mail wrote.
Eweida was suspended from work in 2006 after she refused to take off her cross at work. The airline, which, according to The Sunday Telegraph, initially claimed the cross breached its uniform code, backed down after the case was widely condemned. But Eweida, 58, has been campaigning to cement Christians’ rights to wear religious tokens, a right she says is not denied to other faith followers.
Fifty-six-year-old Chaplin was barred from working on her hospital’s wards in Exeter, southwest England, when she refused to remove or hide the cross she wore.
British courts have turned down the women’s claims that their right to wear crosses was guaranteed by European human rights rules, but the women have been backed by the Equality Commission, headed by former Labor politician Trevor Phillips.
Government lawyers are set to follow Featherstone’s line to argue that “in neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a generally recognized form of practicing the Christian faith, still less one that is regarded as a requirement of the faith.”
The Equality Commission is to tell the European court that believers are entitled to manifest their faith even if it is not a strict requirement of their religion that they do so.
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights states: “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.”
But the government says wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.
“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,” Lord Carey said as quoted by both newspapers.