Don’t be ashamed of the cross – Nadia Eweida speaks to Barnabas

January 18, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world, Persecution

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Belgium, January 17, 2013: In an interview with Barnabas Fund following her landmark victory at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) this week, Nadia Eweida has called on British Christians in the workplace to stand up and be confident about their faith in Christ.

The British Airways (BA) check-in clerk said she felt “vindicated” after Strasbourg judges ruled that her rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, had been violated.

Nadia went home from work at Heathrow Airport in October 2006 after she refused to conceal her cross necklace; she was told it breached BA’s uniform code.

A long legal battle ensued, with Nadia losing several court hearings before taking the challenge to the ECHR, alongside three other British Christians who claimed to have suffered discrimination in the workplace because of their faith. The Strasbourg ruling, which was delivered on Tuesday morning (15 January), has been keenly anticipated by British Christians as a landmark verdict on their rights to manifest their faith in professional and public life.

Nadia said:

I believe that Christians’ rights have now been vindicated in both the UK and Europe, and I’m very pleased that the appeal court found in my favour. It means that, if they wish to do so, employees may display their cross in the workplace without any discrimination or retribution.

Nadia, who hails from Egypt, said British Christians are “too reserved” and she hoped that her victory would be an “encouragement to stand up and be confident about what Jesus did on the cross and not be ashamed”.

Her public campaign has been at great personal cost, causing her considerable stress, anxiety and grief. She said that her faith has become a lot stronger as a result but she has had to walk through “wilderness days” along the way, adding, “You have to keep hoping and trusting, not giving in and not giving up.”

She said:

It was a long battle, a battle against the forces of darkness. People should hold onto their faith, remain steadfast and persevere. You will have trials, but be of cheer, take heart. Jesus suffered a lot, so why shouldn’t we suffer?

Nadia has received financial support from Barnabas Fund for her legal campaign as well as personal support from International Director Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, whom she thanked for his prayers and for being “a shoulder to cry on” during her six-year ordeal.

Although BA changed its uniform policy in 2007 to allow staff to display a faith or charity symbol, this was not enough to satisfy Nadia’s quest for justice, because there was an important principle at stake: she said that she felt “aggrieved and indignant” that her Muslim colleagues had been allowed to wear the hijab and Sikh colleagues their religious bangles while she had not been permitted to wear her cross necklace as a manifestation of her faith

ECHR upheld Nadia’s right to wear a cross necklace

ECHR upheld Nadia’s right to wear a cross necklace

While it has been argued that displaying the cross symbol is not a requirement of the Christian faith, for Nadia, who still works for BA, an employer should not be an “arbitrator of faith” with the power to accept Muslim hijabs and Sikh bangles but deny Christian crosses.

She has not received an apology from BA nor any back pay for the time that she missed work while an internal appeal was taking place over her refusal to remove her cross necklace.

TAINTED VICTORY

But while Nadia’s case has finally been upheld, European judges rejected the appeals of the three other British Christians, one of which was similar to that of the BA check-in clerk.

Former nurse Shirley Chaplin was asked not to display her cross necklace by her then employers, the Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation NHS Trust, in 2009. While the ECHR acknowledged that wearing a cross necklace was a manifestation of her faith, this right was overridden by the hospital’s claims that it was against “health and safety”. But this concern has not been applied across the board by the hospital: Muslims are allowed to wear hijabs and Sikhs bangles.

There are thus limitations on the rights of Christians to manifest their faith in the workplace, and the ruling in Shirley’s case gives employers discretion to impose certain restrictions.

The government’s position on the matter remains confusing and contradictory. In June last year, Prime Minister David Cameron said:

I fully support the right of people to wear religious symbols at work; I think it is a vital religious freedom. If it turns out that the law has the intention as has come out in this case, we will change the law and make it clear that people can wear religious emblems at work.

And then in a tweet following Nadia’s victory on Tuesday, Cameron said that he was “delighted” that the principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld, adding, “People shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs.”

Despite these strong statements of support, it was the British government that contested the cases brought by the four Christians.

Asked what she thought about the Prime Minister’s reaction to her victory, Nadia said:

I can’t comment on what David Cameron said because he says one opinion and then changes his mind – not until he puts it into action. I would like Christians to cease to be discriminated against and for Judeo-Christian values not to be subdued.

This was echoed by Shirley Chaplin, who said:

I am pleased … that the Prime Minister supports the freedom to wear the cross. But I don’t understand why the Government fought against me. If the Prime Minister really believes in the freedom to wear the cross he now needs to act swiftly to protect that freedom.

Indeed. While Barnabas Fund rejoices with Nadia in her victory, we also implore David Cameron to keep his promise and take firm action to prevent the courts from having to be involved again in cases of this nature.

– barnabas edit

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