A significant showdown about how far religion can wave its disapproving finger into British workplaces is gearing up and its outcome could affect whether Parliament fully legitimizes same-sex marriages in England and Wales.
Two British women have brought a claim to the European Court of Human Affairs that they were punished by their respective employers for refusing to remove their crucifixes while at work. Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was asked to cover her cross at work and subsequently put on leave until she refused to do so, and Shirely Chaplain, a nurse who was moved to a desk job after she too refused to remove her own talisman, have argued that banning their crucifixes at work violates their human right to manifest their religion.
"Expressing" religion and displaying it in all of its jangling splendor don't necessarily have to be the same, which is the position the British government has taken, asserting that since wearing a cross or crucifix is not a "requirement of faith," employers are well within their right to ban the wearing of such non-compulsory religious accessories. Eweida and Chaplain, in turn, have appealed to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads,
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
And thus ensues a good old fashioned semantic wrestling match, with lawyers on both sides wrangling over whether "manifesting" under Article 9 equates to a dictate of one's faith. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, added a more political tincture to the debate by saying that the British government's steadfast refusal to stand up for Christians' right to proudly display their suffering lord around their necks, or knead him between their knuckles in spontaneous workplace prayer is just more evidence of Christianity being "sidelined" in the country.
Though, it's not as if the government has issued a direct ban on Christian jewelry — it's only given employers the right to determine what sort of environment their workplace will be.
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