London, England - Two women who have been barred from wearing the traditional symbol by their employers are taking their campaign to the European Court of Human Rights.
Judges in Britain have ruled against Nadia Eweida, a British Airways check-in clerk, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, who wanted to wear the cross at work.
Mrs Eweida’s case dates from 2006 when she was suspended by BA for breaching the company’s uniform code. Mrs Chaplin was barred from working on wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after refusing to hide the cross she wore on a necklace chain.
The pair, and two other Christians, are bringing legal action against the UK because they believe British laws have failed to protect their human rights, specifically the right to freedom of religion.
Their lawyers argue that article nine of the Human Rights Act should allow them to “manifest” their beliefs by wearing items, including the cross, which are not a “requirement of the faith”.
The Government’s official submission to the Strasbourg court dismisses their argument as “ill-founded”.
The response, prepared by the Foreign Office, adds: “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 (including by the applicants themselves) as a requirement of the faith.”
Downing Street said the Government was required to pass on the ruling of the British court to the European Court in Strasbourg and is awaiting its judgment.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said Mr Cameron supported the right of Christians to wear symbols of their faith. “The PM’s personal view is that people should be able to wear crosses,” said the spokesman. “Our view is that the Equality Act as it stands should allow people to express their views in this kind of way.”
A No 10 source said it was possible the European court would agree with the claims from the two women and clarify the right of Christians to wear the cross in a way that does not “cause offence to others”.
However, if the court refused to support the women, “we would have to consider what action we might take”, the source said. It was understood that one option could be to legislate.
The subject was raised yesterday in the Commons. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, told MPs: “Providing any object doesn’t get in the way of doing the job, a discreet display of someone’s religion is something we should welcome.”