Toronto, Canada - The British government is set to argue at the European Court of Human Rights that Christians do not have the right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work.
Critics call the move a blow to Christianity, saying the display of its symbols of faith is restricted while symbols of religions such as the Sikh turban and Muslim hijab are granted special status.
The London Telegraph has revealed the government will argue that employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so because wearing the crucifix is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith.
Judges in Strasbourg will hear the test case on religious freedom in Britain later this year. It will bring together four separate cases, including that of Nadia Eweida, who works for British Airways. Her case dates from 2006 when she was suspended for refusing to take off the cross which her employers claimed breached BA’s uniform code.
Although the airline later changed its policy, the Telegraph reports Eweida fought the case through the U.K. court system, finally losing her application to be heard by the Supreme Court.
She and co-plaintiffs in separate cases want the European court to rule their human right to manifest their religion, protected under the European Convention of Human Rights, has been breached.
But the government’s response, as reported by the Telegraph, states that the wearing of the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The government’s position on the right of Christians to wear the cross at work emerged after its plans to legalize same-sex marriages angered leaders of Britain’s Roman Catholic Church.
In a surprise move, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, appeared to undermine the case for wearing the crucifix when he said that for many Christians, it has become little more than jewellery, “which religious people make and hang on to” as a substitute for true faith.
Williams, speaking at a church service in Rome where he met the Pope on the weekend, said the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of a tendency to manufacture religion.
“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration,” he said.