European Court Makes Major Rulings for — and Against — Religious Expression

By:  Dave Bohon
European Court Makes Major Rulings for — and Against — Religious Expression

The European Court of Human Rights has offered a mixed bag of decisions concerning the rights of Christians in the workplace.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) offered a mixed bag of decisions January 15 concerning the rights of British Christians in the workplace, ruling in favor of a woman who was disciplined by British Airways for refusing to cover up a cross necklace she wore as part of her faith, while dismissing three other cases of religious discrimination appeals brought by U.K. Christians.

The only victorious claimant was Nadia Eweida, an employee of British Airways who was sent home in 2006 because she refused to remove a necklace with a cross that the airline said violated its dress policy, even though other employees were allowed to wear religious attire that was much more obtrusive, such as hijabs, turbans, and skull caps. While a British court had ruled against Eweida's claim of religious discrimination, the ECHR reversed the decision, ruling that Eweida's cross “was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance.” The court added that there was also “no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorized, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees, had any negative impact on British Airways’ brand or image.”

Eweida said that the verdict prompted her to jump for joy and thank Jesus. “It's a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith,” she said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also appeared to appreciate the ruling, tweeting he was “delighted that the principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld.” In response to Eweida's case Cameron had indicated a willingness to introduce legislation allowing individuals to wear religious symbols at work.

The Church of England's Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, also applauded the ECHR's ruling. “Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination,” he said in a statement after the ruling. He added that Britain's Equality Act 2010 “encourages employers to embrace diversity — including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule.”

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