Minister in legal battle to STOP Christians being able to wear a cross to work
A Liberal Democrat minister has ordered Government lawyers to oppose the right of Christian workers to wear a cross.
On the instructions of Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, they will call on European human rights judges to dismiss the claims of Christian workers who have been banned from displaying the symbol of their faith at work.
The move means that David Cameron’s Coalition is now lined up against the Christian churches on a second battleground – the Prime Minister is already at loggerheads with both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches over same-sex marriage.
It also puts the Government at odds with its own equality quango. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is to argue in the same European Court of Human Rights test case that workers should have legal protection if they wish to display a token of their religious faith at work.
BA backed down after her case provoked condemnation, but Mrs Eweida, 58, has been campaigning to cement the rights of Christians to wear religious symbols, a right she says is routinely accorded to followers of other faiths.
Mrs Chaplin, 56, a nurse, was barred from working on the wards of her hospital in Exeter after she refused to remove or hide the cross she wore on her necklace chain.
The claims of both women that they have a right to wear a cross – under European human rights rules which guarantee the right to manifest belief – have been rejected by British courts.
Both women have won backing from the Equality Commission, headed by former Labour politician Trevor Phillips, which is to tell the Strasbourg judges that believers have the right to display their faith even if it is not a strict requirement of their religion that they do so.
But Government lawyers will follow the line set down by Miss Featherstone and argue that ‘in neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith, still less one that is regarded as a requirement of the faith’.
The Eweida and Chaplin cases are among four test claims regarded by Christians as being at the centre of their efforts to ensure their faith is not marginalised by the State or pushed out of public life.
Two other cases involve a registrar sacked by her council for declining to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, and a Relate counsellor sacked after he said he would not give sex advice to gay couples.
A spokesman for the Home Office, which supervises Miss Featherstone’s Equalities Department, said: ‘The Equality Act makes very clear that people have the right to express their views in a legitimate way, as long as they do not discriminate against a particular group or individual.
‘Therefore the UK is not in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, as alleged by the applicants. It would be inappropriate to comment further on the details of these cases at this stage.’
But former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said: ‘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.