Britain fights Christians' right to wear cross, infuriating activists
In Britain, women are fighting for the right to wear cross necklaces over their uniforms.
March 12th, 2012
02:05 PM ET

Britain fights Christians' right to wear cross, infuriating activists

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

London (CNN) -
Christian activists in Britain are furious at the arguments their government will use against them when Europe's highest court considers whether employees have the right to wear crosses that show over their uniforms.

Britain will argue that the two Christian women at the center of the case had the option of quitting their jobs and working elsewhere, so they are not covered by European human rights law, according to legal papers obtained by CNN.

"Employees who face work requirements incompatible with their faith, and have the option of resigning and seeking alternative employment, cannot claim for a breach of Article 9" of the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain will argue.

The government will also say that wearing a cross is not a requirement of Christianity, so wearing one in public is not protected by the law.

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The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear the case of the two British women, who say their employers discriminated against them by refusing them allow them to display their crosses, calling them violations of their policy on uniforms.

The British government is the defendant in the case, and is being taken to court by British Airways worker Nadia Eweida and nurse Shirley Chaplin.

The British Home Office told CNN Monday that the United Kingdom is not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Andrea Minichiello Williams, head of the group Christian Concern, said the government's line of argument is "extraordinary."

And she said Christians are increasingly being marginalized in Britain.

"Christians are losing their jobs. They are being forced from the public square," she said, declaring that the government's argument that Christians could quit and work somewhere else "smacks of the beginnings of totalitarianism."

A source familiar with the intricacies of the case called the British government position "incredibly crude and stupid."

"They have come up with the most extreme argument, that fundamentally religion is protected by your ability to leave and seek alternative employment," said the source, who is not authorized to speak about the case on the record and asked not to be named.

"It's a very hostile argument. You wouldn't say a black man can be sacked, that a homosexual can be sacked," the source said.

She also criticized the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who said Sunday that "the cross itself has become a religious decoration."

Williams' spokesman, David Brownlie-Marshall, said the archbishop's words were being taken out of context.

Williams was preaching about the need to think intensely about the meaning of the cross, rather than the object itself, his spokesman said, and was not referring to the court case.

The head of Christian Concern said that isn't good enough.

"It's not a time for the archbishop of Canterbury to be obscure and incomprehensible," she said. "It's time for him to find his voice. He needs to be clear that for many the cross is the symbol of Christianity, and he needs to empower Christians up and down the country to wear the cross as a symbol of hope."

The second-highest ranking archbishop in the Church of England took a much stronger line Sunday.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu said the government is "beginning to meddle in areas that they ought not to."

"People should be able to manifest their faith," he said, citing Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as the two Christian women do.

Christian Concern is supporting Eweida and Chaplin at the European court in Strasbourg.

But the source familiar with the case said the Christians have an uphill fight, saying it is "highly unlikely that a European court will anger a national government" by ruling against it.

A top thinker on the role of religion in society, on the other hand, argued that the case should never have ended up in court in the first place.

"In these cases, it would be wise for all parties to take a breath, back off from the courts and go back to the negotiating table," said Elizabeth Hunter, director of the British think tank Theos.

"We need to learn to deal with our differences like grown-ups," she said. "Not by restricting the rights of people of faith to what the state says is a requirement, nor by privileging them at the expense of others, but by listening and doing the difficult, necessary, case-by-case compromising."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Britain • Church and state • Religious liberty

soundoff (950 Responses)
  1. Jacobp Angelai

    Hello friends, its enormous article concerning tutoringand entirely defined, keep it up all the time.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  2. Linda

    All Christians in Britain should wear a cross every single day, beginning immediately. As an American Christian, I support these women and condemn Britain for its descrimination of Christians. If this is the case, outlaw all head dress and body coverings that th muslums wear (it really isn't necessary). People are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Thank you.

    May 23, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Jamie

      I watched the time lapse phoopgrathy of the big waves, they actually covered a small strip of sandbar for a few minutes. Talk about scary! Of course, I think they did a special episode of the biggest loser and did a full cast synchronized cannonball to create the same effect.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  3. Tara

    Hello! This is about EMPLOYERS being able to enforce a dress code. This is not about the government outlawing what you wear in public. Employers have every right to enforce a dress code that includes not showing religious symbols. Don't like it, work somewhere else, or be self-employed.

    April 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  4. Dave

    I think the case turns on two elements – is the ban a general policy, or only specific to people wearing crosses? Secondary to that, is Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights worded to distinguish between something that is an absolute requirement and something that considered potentially beneficial within one's faith. At what point is outward expression of faith considered important enough to be connected to the faith?

    At the end of the day, whether someone believes something, or does not believe something, it is best to keep an open mind toward those who do not hold the same belief. Open mindedness provides room to grow and learn and admit that our beliefs may be flawed. A closed minded atheist and a closed minded Christian find themselves limited in much the same way, unwilling to deconstruct their beliefs, they cannot strengthen their faith.

    April 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  5. pullover hoodies

    Thanks for the good writeup. It in truth was a entertainment account it. Glance complicated to more delivered agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?

    April 10, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  6. cj

    Once again humans prove that we need someone to oppress, and once again we find justifications. They are idiots. They would force everyone to do worship if they could. Humans never change. We will never change.

    April 10, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  7. † In God We Trust †

    England/GB is a Christian country and has not seperation of church and state. Let everyone wear cross... this is ridiculous!

    April 9, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  8. Clemdane

    I don't care what consenting Christians do behind closed doors. I just wish they wouldn't flaunt it in our faces.

    April 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  9. Phillip

    NO all jewelry isnt being banned ONLY religious jewelry. I am a devout Christian. I wear mine at work. Everyones getting too crazy over it. Next they will be saying you cant wear this or that or think this and feel that! Its not so much about the Item itself as it is about FREEDOM!

    April 8, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  10. nomdefaitour

    It's about time that morons who believe in myths are denied the privilege of forcing their idiotic fantasies on other people (ever heard of the inquisition... Christians would do it again today if they could get away with it). They shouldn't be coddled or respected for being so stupid as to believe in something so incredible without the slightest evidence other than what some swindling preacher told them to believe (and it's about time churches started paying taxes as well; they shouldn't be excused the responsibility of paying their fair share of taxes just because they proclaim to have some special relationship with a nonexistent god).

    April 8, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Qodex

      Wow. And yet here you are, demanding the right to force your idiotic fantasies on other people.

      April 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  11. christina knight

    I think that if a company has a universal policy that no jewelry of any kind (religious or not) can be worn over the company uniform then these women have no case. I do not think that employer should be required to ever make accomodations regarding apparel or accessories like jewelry based on religious preferences.

    April 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  12. jokr8790

    I would think the British government would have more important matters. People accuse President Obama and Democrats of waging a war on religion. They've done nothing in comparison to this. I'm an atheist and I don't give a crap if someone wants to wear and display a cross. I don't care if a Muslim wants to wear a Burka or a hajib or a Jew a yarmulke. It doesn't affect me at all as long as no one starts preaching at me, trying to enact laws affecting something like procreative choice unless they want to protect it or requiring prayer or acknowledgment of a religion at government sponsored events or in schools. It's ridiculous.

    April 7, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts or goblins

      The UK government is the defendant in this case – they did not initiate the court case! If a couple of delusional believers didn't think their need to display which cult they belong to supersedes the employers dress code, there would be no case.

      April 7, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  13. atroy

    If you have to wear a cross so that other people will know you are a Christian, then you are not a very good one!

    April 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • mastermind

      its worn to express your faith. you r not any better or worse if you do or dont wear one....

      April 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  14. Joe

    I'm glad everything is going so well in Europe they have time to worry about these personal and essentially trival matters.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Mike

      So, freedom of expression is trivial? Is that really what you're saying?

      April 10, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • SIegfried

      I love it, we were both on an alternative Christmas tree serach this weekend, i made one out of doilies. I love vintage patterns, but can't readily find them, you're right, the color is perfect! and the cost....priceless!Carol

      October 8, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  15. Believer

    Not all Muslim women wear a Burka so ban that too as well as a Yamicha. Or simply let people express their religious adornment and focus on spiraling debt...

    April 6, 2012 at 3:36 am |
  16. Jenn

    They stated that the cross is not something that is required by your religion to wear. That is a fact. Christians do not HAVE to wear crosses as part of their faith. Therefore if jewelry over a uniform is not permitted, than they cannot wear them. However, if something is required by a religion, than I believe it should be permitted. Many muslim women wear hijabs because they are required by their religion to cover themselves. This is not about persecuting one religion over another, if jewelry is not permitted by an employer and it is not required to the employee as part of their religion, than what is the issue?

    April 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  17. Sunny

    If other religion people cannot wear a head dress oor a burkha, then why should Chrsitians be allowed to wear a cross? They had problem with Sikhs wearing their turbans. So, Christians, get rid of your hypocrisy and either you accept other religions or be th echange which you want in other religions!

    April 5, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • GodPot

      If you think this ban has anything to do with religion, you are a moron. This is a ban on jewelry, nothing more.

      April 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  18. brian

    if this weren't a cross but rather a turban or a burka, somehow I feel the government position would be different. go figure

    April 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Sunny

      Wow! we thought alike!

      April 5, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • GodPot

      Wrong, if it were a turban necklace or a burka necklace it would still be banned, BECAUSE IT"S JEWELRY!! No religious symbols were banned with this law, only jewelry that shows over their uniform. You are both morons.

      April 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Mike

      @GodPot - what the hell are you talking about?!? What in the hell is a turban necklace? God's pot must be pretty damn good because clearly you're stoned off your ass right now.

      April 10, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.