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UK Government in ‘cross Ban’ Controversy Over European Court of Human Rights Case

By Periscope @periscopepost
UK government in ‘cross ban’ controversy over European Court of Human Rights case

Cross ban in the workplace? Photo credit: Photosteve101 via flickr

The UK government’s already-fractious relationship with the Church looks set for further strain. The Sunday Telegraph claimed ministers are planning to oppose the European Court of Human Rights case of two British women seeking to establish the right to wear a cross or crucifix in the workplace. Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, are claiming religious discrimination after facing disciplinary action from their employers for refusing to remove their crosses while at work.

“A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a ‘requirement’ of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so,” said the paper. The report comes after some Christian leaders condemned Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for the legalisation of gay marriage.

Never to be accused of jumping on the bandwagon, The Daily Mail has named and shamed Lib Dem Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone as the mastermind behind the government’s stance on wearing crosses: “The move means that David Cameron’s Coalition is now lined up against the Christian churches on a second battleground.”

But is the situation really as straightforward as the original Sunday Telegraph report implied?

Not a government stance. “It’s unlikely that any minister has even seen the document on which the Telegraph based its report, which was a formal submission to the Strasbourg court drawn up by government lawyers,” wrote Nelson Jones on a New Statesman blog. The problem, said Jones, is that there seems to be some confusion over what the term ‘government’ means in the UK: “In popular usage it tends to refer to the group of ruling politicians. But it also means the ‘permanent government’, the civil servants, lawyers and other officials who remain in place irrespective of which party happens to be in power.” Therefore the decision to oppose Eweida and Chaplin’s case does not necessarily reflect ministers’ views on the issue. And The Daily Mail’s report that claimed Lynne Featherstone had directed government lawyers was also flawed: “The only evidence it has for this is a quote from a Home Office spokesman setting out the government’s understanding of the Equality Act. Even if she was consulted she is more likely to have been acting on official advice rather than pro-actively directing policy,” said Jones.

Britain is Christian. “It would do well for the Government to remember that Britain is still a Christian country” said a Daily Express editorial, suggesting that UK officials “grovel to appease the faithful” of all religions except Christianity. The editorial asked why wearing a cross in the workplace should be banned if nobody is harmed or offended.

Leave religion alone. “I don’t know the process by which government lawyers have decided this is the right way to go, but someone needs to march into their room, grab them by the lapels, and tell them not to be such confounded idiots,” thundered London Mayor Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph. Johnson called for “common sense”, arguing that allowing an employee to wear a crucifix is “a reasonable and harmless indulgence”.

”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,” said former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, reported The Daily Mail.

Why insist on wearing a cross? Eweida and Chaplin insist they have the right to express their religion – but “‘expressing’ religion and displaying it in all of its jangling splendor don’t necessarily have to be the same,” wrote Doug Barry at Jezebel. Barry said that there was no need for Christians to overreact: “It’s not as if the government has issued a direct ban on Christian jewelry — it’s only given employers the right to determine what sort of environment their workplace will be.”

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