Two British women are suing their employers after being fired for violating their companies' dress codes — by wearing cross necklaces. And the outcome of their case could affect display of religious symbols across Europe.
Former British Airways employee Nadia Eweida and former nurse Shirley Chaplain were dismissed from their posts for continuing to wear crucifix necklaces after being warned that the Christian bauble violated their company's dress codes. After her 2006 dismissal, Eweida sued in the UK and lost her case. Chaplain's 31-year career as a nurse ended when she refused to remove her crucifix necklace and was relegated to a desk job.
The women have brought their case before the European Court on Human Rights in the hopes that the court will agree that dress codes that ban religious symbols violate religious freedom. But their former employers believe that because wearing crucifixes is a matter of personal choice to Christians and not a religious requirement like, say, a Sikh turban, the women don't have a case. TIME's Lauren Daniels reports that both sides are citing Article 9 in the European Convention of 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.
The women say this means that they should be allowed to wear crucifixes regardless of their employers' dress codes. British Airways and the National Health Service claims the opposite.
Like put-upon Christian leaders stateside, Christian leaders across the pond are relishing the opportunity to crawl up on the cross themselves. One leader claimed that this was another example of a newfound wave of persecution unleashed against European Christians in the same vein as allowing gay people to get married and failing to recognize Sundays as a day of worship. The Archbishop of Canterbury has embarked upon a campaign claiming that Christianity was being "attacked" and "brushed aside" from society What next?! The Ten Commandments?!
Passion of the Church aside, do these women have a point? How much should employers be allowed to dictate dress code? And, if religious belief grants people the freedom to decline to follow professional wardrobe guidelines, how soon can we expect to see people who say they attend the Church of Style refusing ugly uniforms outright?