February 2013 – Christian Wins Discrimination Claim
Last month the European Court of Human Rights handed down rulings on four contentious cases which had been brought before it by British citizens.
In the first case, Nadia Ewelda, a former British Airways employee, won the right to wear a cross around her neck to work without being fired. Regular readers of our news items will remember that Ms Ewelda was sent home from Heathrow in September 2006 after wearing a small silver cross openly at work. The company said her conduct was in breach of its uniform rules. In the ruling the judges said a fair balance had not been struck between Ms Ewelda’s right to manifest her religious belief and her employers wish to project a certain corporate image. Part of the reasoning was that other British Airways employees were allowed to wear religious symbols of other faiths, including turbans and scarves. In a key statement of principle which paves the way for other Christians to wear the cross at work, the judges also emphasised the importance of freedom of religion as one of the foundations of a pluralistic, democratic society.
However, in three other cases brought by British citizens over alleged discrimination on the grounds of faith, the Court ruled against the applicants. Nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her claim after the judges decided that her NHS employers were justified in banning her cross on health and safety grounds.
Islington registrar Lillian Ladele, who refused to conduct civil partnerships and Relate councillor Gary McFarlane, who was sacked for refusing to give therapy to gay couples, also lost their claims.
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