Can Christians wear the cross at work?

Two Christian women are taking their fight to wear a crucifix in the workplace to the European Court of Human Rights, writes Dominic Burbidge.

The case

Two Christian women, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights after being barred by employers from wearing the cross at work. Since both discrimination cases were lost in the UK courts in 2010, the two Christians sought redress under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The article provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes a person’s “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”.

Eweida was placed on unpaid leave by British Airways for not covering up a necklace depicting a Christian cross. British Airways argued that the wearing of a crucifix falls under their general uniform regulation of not allowing jewellery. In a separate case, Shirley Chaplin, who works as a nurse in the UK, was moved to a desk job upon refusing to remove her crucifix. The NHS trust’s uniform policy, which Shirley Chaplin works under, bans necklaces for frontline staff on the grounds that they may be grabbed by patients. The UK government argued against both Christians’ appeal to the Strasbourg court on the grounds that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore not covered by European human rights legislation.

Author opinion

Compared with other treatments of religious expression, these two cases of Christians trying to wear crosses in the workplace seem out of step. Though the two cases were lost in the UK courts, special status has been granted for the Sikh turban and kara bracelet, and the Muslim hijab. Even if sufficient grounds can be found for the cross being a dangerous piece of jewellery in the workplace, the cases were clearly unnecessarily politicised by the UK government’s stance. Should government be the body to define what forms of expression are necessary requirements of a faith? Christianity is a diverse religious body, with some members arguing against any symbols whilst others, for example Coptic Christians (such as, Eweida), place greater value on the right to symbols and public expression. Government defining what counts as a religious requirement invites accusations that its decisions have been arbitrary, theologically ignorant and trying to satisfy only those groups who might back their rights with civil disorder.

- Dominic Burbidge

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Comments (21)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. Dear Friends,

    As for me, all religions are prompt for the sake of Humanity. But unfortunately, most of practitioners bust the concept behind Religion. Materials should never express your statment of faith. It’s all about tolerance and living with each others peacefully by taking tremendous steps to achieve your inner peace. Let’s look at the Christians’ cross, muslims’ veil, the jewishs’ yarmulke and so as a way to promote intercultural and religious dialogue. Let’s emphasize the interdisciplinary exchange instead of focusing on the appearance. Let’s bring it off for a better Living, for a better World!


    here is a link to a story which happened few days ago in Turkey.. a famous composer charged for admitting to be atheist :O

  3. Mislim, da bi nošenje križa moralo biti dovoljeno. Živimo v svodobni družbi, kjer ima vsak pravico do svojega mišljenja in tako tudi do svobodne izbire veroizpovedi. V podjetjih zato ne bi smeli razlikovati med zaposlenimi na podlagi njihovih oblačil in nakita. Seveda je popolnoma drugače, če gre za predpisano uniformo, kjer nošenje nakita ni dovoljeno oziroma če nakit ni dovoljen zaradi varnosti na delovnem mestu.

  4. Seveda kristjani lahko nosijo svoje simbole na delovnih mestih, tako kot tudi pripadniki drugih ver. Delodajalci so v tem primeru grdo kršili eno temeljnih človekovih pravic- pravico do svobodnega izražanja veroizpovedi. Mislim, da v 21. stoletju res niso več potrebni takšni radikalni ukrepi, in da bi družba morala biti bolj odprta, takšne kršitve pa absolutno kaznovati. V tem konkretnem primeru pa ni dopusto nošenje simbola križa le, če imajo zaposleni pri letalski družbi izrecno prepoved nošenja nakita, ki izhaja iz internih pravil letalske družbe, s katerimi je uslužbenec seveda predhodno seznanjen.

  5. This case, technically, had nothing to do with the cross itself nor the religious connotation attached to it. These ladies were treated in such a manner as a result of violating dress code/ refusing to follow it. BA and NHS have every right to enforce such codes. The foundation of such dress codes did not arise from intended religious discrimination. NHS and BA may have such a dress code for Health and Safety reasons. For example, jewellery sometimes falls off, and sometimes unknowingly in the most inconvenient places, and if it does it can cause all sorts of liabilities for these corporations. That is way more likely to be the foundation of these dress codes. BA and NHS are not in the wrong for enforcing their dress codes and there was nothing discriminatory in doing so.

  6. Zakaj pa ne? Vsak ima možnost izražanja svojega mnenja in izražanja svoje vere. Če se nekdo, ki nosi križ tako bolje počuti, ne vidim razloga zakaj ga ne bi smel imeti. O družbi zadnje čase pravimo, da je postala bolj odprta, bolj strpna (da imamo manj rasizma, da se sprejema homoseksualce…) V tem primeru pa vidimo le nestrpnost. Dokler izražanje svojega mišljenja in verske izpovednosti ne škodi ljudem okoli nas, ne vidim problema zakaj ljudje ne bi smeli nositi križa okoli vratu.

  7. Under most circumstances, I’d have to argue for the women’s rights to wear a symbol of their religion, but in this case, they were not banned from wearing a symbol of thier religion but from wearing jewelry–something that seems to have been outlined in both job descriptions. If wearing a crucifix is such an important symbol of faith to both women, they should explore other attire or job options. I think Joe College summed it up well when he said “It’s not a question of free speech; it’s a question of practicality, workplace hazards, and indignant advocates for bling political correctness.”

  8. This is a simple case of profiling. Is it wrong for a Muslim woman to wear her veil? Is it wrong for a Jew to where his Yamaka? How about even going as far as a person wearing a pentagram? Is there a cut off with religion? I mean we can sit here and state that a person wearing a pentagram is even more unacceptable and the majority of the worlds populace would agree. I think that same as if we saw someone wearing a nazi swastika. But why are some seen as okay to wear and others not? Do we have to have 100% of the worlds agreement to make it right? I think not. I think disagreement will continue but that fact is there are people who think all of these things are right and wrong. So are real question is who do we follow? Should nothing be worn at all or should people do as they please? I personally agree that people should do as they please and what may happen to them is a risk they are placing on being that religion. That risk that you are willing to place I also think shows your strength of faith and should be protected if you follow whatever faith it is you want.

    • But it is completely the opposite of what you describe. The fact that it is a Christian symbol is irrelevant to why it was forbidden. In the airline, jewelry was against the dresscode. In the hospital, it posed a recognized hazard. It would not matter whether it was a crucifix necklace, a swastika pendant, or simple gaudy bangles.

      If I founded a religion whose main principle would be wearing long flowing clothing with lots of dangly metal hoops all over my body, I’d be willing to wager I’d be “profiled” by any job that involves a lot of moving parts and machinery.

      While you may find “strength of faith” nice and cozy, it’s likely that that won’t satisfy your employer’s worries. If he or she doesn’t want to risk the legal and personal damages intrinsic to your beliefs, then it’s time to either seek a job where your garb won’t actively interfere with your workplace or compromise and find some other means of worship. It’s not a question of free speech; it’s a question of practicality, workplace hazards, and indignant advocates for blind political correctness.

  9. When you accept a position at a workplace, it is assumed there will be rules and regulations, including a dress code, already in place that you must conform to. For both of these cases, necklaces are not allowed as a part of the uniform. Neither are attacks on any one person or group of people, and in fact, in the second instance, the necklaces are not allowed due to the hazard of them being pulled on by patients. These people chose to work for these companies and in these environments; therefore they should be following the simple dress code, so long as the dress code does not try to undermine a certain group of people. These dress codes do not seem to be attacking Christians specifically; they are more to simplify what an employee is wearing and to ensure a safer environment for both them and the people they are trying to help. While the government did overstep some boundaries in determining whether or not one would require a cross to show their faith in these instances, in the end, it is up to the individual to determine whether they truly need the cross or the crucifix to show their faith. Most practicing Christians I know do not require a constant wearing of the cross, since it is not what is on the outside that shows one’s faith, it is actions and your internal thoughts and beliefs.

    • This is a very wise comment, but let me push you on what you said about “the government did overstep some boundaries”. What would you do if you were the UK government and had been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights? You can’t say that this is a question of practicality because human rights law trumps employee regulations. So the only argument against a human right is to say that this case doesn’t fall into human rights legislation because wearing the cross is not a necessary part of the Christian faith. But then we have the government saying what it thinks Christianity involves. It’s a difficult one. What are you thoughts?

  10. My question is ‘So what?’. So what if someone wears a cross? It is just a piece of jewelry for someone who is not Christian, while it poses much greater value for a person who is. If someone feels better wearing it to work that probably means he/she would work even harder and better. If you ask me, it is just a loss for the employers, and as for the court’s decision, I have to repeat that there are double standards present.

  11. Freedom of expression is necessary in modern society. Although I am myself a humanist I believe that everyone is entitled to voice their opinion as long as it does not interfere with the progress in the work place and is not distracting

  12. In my opinion Christians should be allowed to wear a cross to work if they are allowed to wear jewellery. Though if the work does not allow to wear ANY jewellery than they should not be allowed to wear it because there is a reason why they banned jewellery from that kind of work and it has nothing to do with the fact that the person is not allowed to show which religion she or he belongs to. If it would be just wearing a cross at work that is not allowed but other jewellery is allowed than in my opinion that person should still wear the cross because the person should have the right to express their religion freely.

    • Yes I agree with this. It is common sense. The problem comes when an employer has banned jewellery for superficial reasons and then the employee wants to wear a cross for deep religious reasons. Or what if an employer wants to ban jewellery just because they don’t want any crosses?

  13. While we have the right to express our religion and belief, it should be in appropriate ways. If jewelry is banned for safety reasons then wearing a cross would be inappropriate. Of course, if a cross is banned for being a religous symbol, that is a different matter and should be resisted. I tend to think that politically correctness, especially in Britain, has gone too far and is seriously robbing decision makers their ability to think reasonably or spend on matters that promote peace, love and unity!

  14. I do not think wearing a cross is a necessary requirement of the Christian faith. As a practising Christian, I do not choose to wear a cross myself, but I defend the right of Christians to wear a cross if they want to as an expression of their faith.

  15. Yes, they could, but not in their work. Human Rights should be Human Rights and the Christians aren’t human, they do not belong to the “monkey’s family”, they belong to the “divine family” and the divine family has nothing to do with Human Rights. Clear enough?

    • I’m confused here? Are you trying to say that Christians are not Humans? This I feel you must clear up because even if a person is not Christian in their early life and one day finds God… Are you then implying that this person is no longer human? Or are you stating that this person has never been human? Also if you are referring that all Christians belong to the divine family you are wrong. If you read into 1st John you will read that simply calling yourself a Christian doesn’t mean you are saved.

    • You can’t separate people into Christians and citizens, giving rights to the citizens but not to the Christians. The human right of freedom of religious expression is a reflection of the fact that citizens are often spiritual and want to express their spiritual beliefs. We can’t remove the “divine family” without ending up having to remove some of the “monkey’s family”.

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