The government of the United Kingdom is under fire from Christian organizations, churches, and activists for refusing to recognize the right of Christians to wear crucifixes and crosses at work — even in government-sector jobs — as Muslim women and Sikh men, for example, are guaranteed the right to wear their traditional religious attire regardless of their employers’ wishes. Critics have slammed the policy and others apparently aimed at silencing Christians or forcing them to act against their faith as discrimination, but U.K. officials are currently defending some of the schemes at the so-called “European Court of Human Rights.”
Perhaps the largest and most well-publicized battle surrounds two Christian women, one who worked for the government’s National Health Service (NHS), fired from their jobs for wearing crosses to work. Coptic Christian Nadia Eweida, one of the two, was suspended from her job with British Airways in 2006 without pay for refusing to remove or hide a cross around her neck. The other woman, NHS hospital nurse Shirley Chaplin, was barred from her job on the ward by public officials for failure to hide the small cross she wore.
After failing to obtain relief from U.K. authorities for what they called discrimination, the two women filed a case with the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) alleging that their right to freedom of religion enshrined in a European treaty had been violated. They were joined by another two Christians, a marriage counselor who was fired for refusing to provide “sex therapy” to homosexuals and a registrar disciplined for not wanting to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.
The European Convention on Human Rights, to which the U.K. government is a party, states in part that subjects are guaranteed “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and “to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs, the convention continues, is subject only to "necessary" limitations "prescribed by law" in the interests of public safety, order, health, morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
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