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Christian BA employee 'jubilant' over discrimination win

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled a British Airways employee who complained she couldn't wear a cross necklace on display at work was discriminated against under freedom of religion legislation. Europe's highest court said there had been a violation of Article 9 (freedom of religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Nadia Eweida was awarded 2,000 euros in compensation and another 30,000 in costs.

The Court said too much weight had been given to BA's desire to maintain a certain image with its company uniform.

Ms Ewida, from Twickenham in south-west London, said she's 'jubilant' about the decision:

"I have colleagues that are Muslims who wear a Hijab; I have colleagues who are Mulims who do not wish to wear a Hijab. 

"So they have a freedom of choice, either they wear it or they don't wear it. Everybody has their own right and faith and makeup to be able to express their faith in their way."

On hearing the news David Cameron tweeted: "Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs". Ms Eweida wore a small silver cross on a chain around her neck concealed under her uniform but as a sign of her commitment to her faith, she then decided to wear the cross openly.

In September 2006, she was sent home without pay until she agreed to comply with the uniform code.

In October 2006, she was offered administrative work without the obligation to wear a uniform or have contact with customers, which she refused.

A statement from BA said:

"Our own uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to wear symbols of faith and she and other employees have been working under these arrangements for the last six years. 

"Miss Eweida has worked continuously for British Airways for 13 years."

However, three other Christian claimants lost their appeals today. Judges ruled they had not been discriminated against by their employers. They are: Nurse Shirley Chaplin - whose employer stopped her wearing cross necklaces - Gary McFarlane - a marriage counsellor who was sacked after saying he might object to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples - and registrar Lillian Ladele - who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. In the case of Ms Chaplin, from Exeter, the judge agreed with hospital bosses who said she couldn't wear her cross necklace because of a health and safety issue.

Ms Chaplin worked at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust from April 1989 to July 2010.  Ms Chaplain gave her reaction to the ruling to Premier's Marcus Jones during the News Hour: 

The Bishop of Exeter, Rt Revd Michael Langrish, tells Premier this is a prime example of Christians not being able to express their faith fully.

Ms Ladele, from London, was employed as a Registrar in Islington from 1992 to 2009.

When the Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005, she was told she would be required to  officiate at civil partnership ceremonies between homosexual couples.

When she refused disciplinary proceedings were brought against her in May 2007. The Christian Institute is disappointed that Ms Ladele, lost her case.

Spokesman Mike Judge said:

"What this case shows is that Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage are at risk of being left out in the cold. 

"If the Government steamrollers ahead with its plans to redefine marriage, then hundreds of thousands of people could be thrown out of their jobs unless they agree to endorse gay marriage."

Gary McFarlane, from Bristol, worked for Relate as a Counsellor from May 2003, to March 2008. 

By the end of 2007, Mr McFarlane's bosses as well as other therapists had expressed concern that there was conflict between his religious beliefs and his work with same-sex couples.

In January 2008, a disciplinary investigation was opened and in March 2008, Mr McFarlane was dismissed for gross misconduct. Mr McFarlane said: "When you ask me to put down my 30-odd years as a practising Christian in order to champion somebody else's right and pay no attention to possible rights that I may have I say that's just not a balanced way to live in multi-cultural Britain."

Ruth Sutherland, Chief Executive of Relate, said:

"We welcome the ruling. We believe that it is further endorsement that Relate acted in an appropriate manner and fully in compliance with the law in the case regarding Gary McFarlane.

"For Relate, this case has always been about protecting the right that every Relate client has to impartial, unbiased and empathetic counselling and sex therapy in line with our charitable aims."

Andrea Minichiello Williams is Director of the Christian Legal Centre - the group which represented Ms Chaplin and Mr McFarlane. She told Premier's Marcus Jones there are positives and negatives from these verdicts.

Following today's rulings the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said:

"Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination.

"Christians are not obliged to wear a cross but should be free to show their love for and trust in Jesus Christ in this way if they so wish.

"In July 2012, the General Synod stated that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern their lives in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture and to manifest their faith in public life as well as in private.

"This means giving expression to their beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in practical acts of service to the local community and to the nation.

"The Equality Act 2010 encourages employers to embrace diversity - including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule."

The Evangelical Alliance said there needs to be more common sense for Christian belief in public life.

Dr Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy for the EA said:

"If UK courts are going to protect religious freedom more fully in the future they need to better understand the nature of Christian belief. Developing better religious literacy needs to become a priority.

"The failure of the court to protect the religious freedom of Lillian Ladele in living out her faith in a way consistent with historic Christian belief shows the limitations of this judgement.

"We need solutions that will allow for the reasonable accommodation of the expressions of religious belief in all its diverse forms."

The British Humanist Association has applauded the Court for 'applying the right principles' to the cases.

Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

"What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles - principles which protect all people against unfair treatment - and we are pleased that the court has recognised this. 

"All reasonable people will agree that there is scope in a secular democracy for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs when that accommodation does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. 

"But if believers try to invoke their beliefs as a defence for treating other people badly - denying them a service because they are gay or claiming a right to preach at them in a professional context - the law is right to prevent them. 

"It's not persecution of Christians; it's the maintenance of a civilised society for all."

Mr MacFarlane and Ms Chaplin have said they would appeal today's ruling and Ms Ladelle is considering appealing.

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