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Mr Cameron said that if necessary, he will legislate to make it clear that people can wear religious symbols at work. So: when’s he going to do it?

Three out of four claimants who say their religious rights have been infringed have been rejected by Strasbourg. What about them, Mr Cameron?

By on Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Shirley Chaplin poses with her crucifix necklace (Photo: PA)

Shirley Chaplin poses with her crucifix necklace (Photo: PA)

I see that Mr Cameron has tweeted that he is “delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld”. The genial Eric Pickles said that he too is delighted. They were referring, of course, to the judgement in which, by a majority of five to two, judges of the European Court of Human Rights have supported the claim of Nadia Eweida, a BA check-in clerk, who was sent home in November 2006 for refusing to remove a small silver crucifix, that this was a violation of her rights.

But what about the three Christians whose claims were rejected by the court? Cameron and Pickles have said nothing about them: nor, in most reports that I heard, did the BBC (later they mentioned them in passing). The court ruled against Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was told to remove a crucifix necklace at work. The judges said Chaplin’s employer banned necklaces for health and safety grounds, so asking her to remove the symbol was not excessive: though how this argument could be seriously upheld, when after a nursing career of 30 years not a single incident has occurred remotely involving her crucifix in either health or safety, beats me.

The judges also rejected the claims of Lillian Ladele, a local authority registrar who said her Christian faith prevented her from overseeing same-sex civil partnerships, and marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, who refused to offer sex therapy to gay couples. In both cases, the court argued that employers had been entitled to strike a balance between claimants’ rights to manifest their religious beliefs and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination. Freedom of religion, they piously intoned, is “an essential part of the identity of believers and one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies … However, where an individual’s religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made.”

But exactly how does refusing to conduct a same-sex civil partnership ceremony, or refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples, impinge on anyone’s rights? There are plenty of registrars prepared to carry out this procedure: and the couples involved would have been quite unaware even of Lilian Ladele’s existence, let alone of her views on civil partnerships. As for giving “sex therapy” to gay couples, how on earth would a heterosexual person know how to do that? And would a gay couple having difficulties in that department really want the advice of someone so totally unqualified to give it? Would a heterosexual couple want the advice of a gay sex therapist? So why did Relate fire Gary McFarlane in the first place?

And why exactly aren’t David Cameron and Eric Pickles supporting them? Even in the case of Nadia Eweida, are we not entitled to doubt their entire sincerity? If Cameron, in particular, is so keen on religious liberty, whatever happened to his promise to legislate to protect them — yet another promise which has not been and probably will not be kept. And more to the point, why were government lawyers sent to Strasbourg to argue against all four claimants, including Nadia Eweida? This is what James Eadie QC, Cameron’s Government’s expensive barrister, told the court (on his behalf): that the refusal to allow an NHS nurse and a British Airways worker to visibly wear a crucifix at work “did not prevent either of them practising religion in private”, which would be protected by human rights law. He argued that a Christian facing problems at work with religious expression needed to consider their position and that they were not discriminated against if they still have the choice of leaving their job and finding new employment (my italics).

“There are,” he went on, “two aspects to this part of the argument. Firstly, resigning and moving to another job and, second, there is clear and consistent jurisprudence that the person who asserts religious rights may on occasion have to take account of their position.”

Isn’t that what Cameron really thinks? Believe what you like: but if your employers don’t like you making it clear that you have beliefs you expect to be respected, forget it? Shirley Chaplin was moved away from nursing to a clerical role by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust in Devon after refusing to remove a necklace bearing a crucifix and then fired completely, after 30 years of nursing. “It is insulting, humiliating and degrading,” she said when her case was first taken to the European court: she then said, Mr Cameron please note, “My Christian faith isn’t something that you put on and then take off to go to work”.

But isn’t that exactly what Cameron really thinks she ought to do, whatever he tweets? David Davis said at the time that “the idea that British citizens are not free to express their faith in the workplace is an extraordinary and oppressive interpretation of the law”. Cameron claimed to agree. “What we will do,” Cameron told the House of Commons in July, “is that if it turns out that the law has the intention of banning the display of religious symbols in the workplace, as has come out in this case” (and as has now been confirmed, in the case of Shirley Chaplin), “then we will change the law and make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work”. Well, according to the law as it has emerged, that isn’t clear at all now.

So, Mr Cameron: when are you going to do what you said you would do? When are you going to legislate, to make it “clear”?

Me, I’m not holding my breath.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    ‘Nice’ guys like Cameron are trying to make Christians second class citizens in our own homelands…..no matter what they say.  Actions speak louder than words.  They must think we really are stupid.

  • http://twitter.com/karlmeyer karl meyer

    Just because a necklace is in the shape of a cross does not make it immune to carrying infections or make it miraculously impossible to catch in equipment. No-one was permitted to wear any necklace at all. The nurse was offered a name badge with a cross imprinted on it but that was rejected by her.

  • TreenonPoet

     Since Pickles and Cameron do not have the power to change the law in accordance with their personal whims, why do you not criticise them for promising otherwise, rather than demanding that they use this non-existent power to change the law? They are free to argue for such changes, but it is highly irresponsible for people in their position to arbitrarily discredit the judiciary, and the fact is that they have not made any sound arguments to support their positions on these cases. (For example “This is a Christian country” is not a valid argument (1) because it is not true, and (2) because, even if it were true, facts trump religious views.)

    I notice that you do not have any sound arguments against the judgements either. For example, you repeat a lie that has been deliberately repeated by The Telegraph and The Daily Mail: If a nurse is not allowed to wear a necklace for health and safety reasons, this does not mean that no religious people are allowed to wear religious jewelery at work (and I’ll ignore your stupid argument about health and safety).

  • maxmarley

    Fibber Cameron recognises only one eternal truth and that is David Cameron.
    He will take Christian support if he gets it. But his target electorate is the vacuous new age materialistic secularists who do not want principled leadership.
    British Christians face an uphill battle because the Cameron truth is the one that will be popular for a long time sadly.

  • TreenonPoet

     Then why does he support the continuing presence by right of Anglican bishops in the House of Lords, why is he opposed to assisted dying, why does he support the expansion of ‘faith’ schools and the requirement to facilitate collective worship in state schools, why did he welcome the Pope in 2010, etc?

  • teigitur

    Mr Cameron, as the saying goes ” says more in his prayers”

  • teigitur

    Thats all possible, but absolutely no hard evidence to back it up. Hospital staff hae been wearing necklaces forever, but its a problem all of a sudden. Its all about control.

  • teigitur

    Anglican Bishops are Christians?? Well I never!

  • http://twitter.com/karlmeyer karl meyer

    In that particular hospital the uniform used to have a crew neck and necklaces had to be worn under the crew neck and so weren’t in danger of dangling in food or equipment. They then changed the uniform to a more v neck style  which meant that previously safely tucked away necklaces (of all denominations and styles) were at risk of coming out. So therefore all necklaces (not just christian ones) were not permitted.

    If I were lying in a bed I would not want a necklace dangling over me, my food or IV/air tubes etc. 

    In any case, where exactly in the bible does it say christians have to wear a cross as a sign of faith?

  • teigitur

    Nowhere. But that is hardly the point. Perhaps that nurse could have been allowed a crew neck uniform. Seems to me they are more  infection-control friendly anyway. Less skin etc showing. I would have thought that if the chain were short enough no “dangling” would have taken place. As I say, and I have been into this with the infection control team in my own hospital, there is no evidence whatsoever that it causes any harm.

  • teigitur

    They do, and we are. We vote them in time and again. How stupid is that!?

  • JabbaPapa

    (and I’ll ignore your stupid argument about health and safety)

    Self-contradiction’R'us …

  • OldMeena

    “…not a single incident has occurred remotely involving her crucifix in either health or safety, beats me.”
    How do you know?

    If you are a “successful” long-standing amber or red light jumper, and you are eventually prosecuted, try telling that to the court.

  • OldMeena

    Clinical hospital staff are not allowed to wear dangley jewellery.

  • OldMeena

    When religion raises its head, it’s common for all sense, logic and reason to go out of the window.
    There’s no point trying to “reason” yourself through this.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Actually Meena…….Catholicism is logic reason and sense itself.  And all come from God!

  • OldMeena

    Can’t imagine why anyone would think that!

  • OldMeena

    Can’t imagine why anyone would think that!

  • OldMeena

    Can’t imagine why they must think that!

  • OldMeena

    You have been “into this”?

    Done controlled experiments and analysed data?

    Some people wouldn’t like staring at a little model of an execution device, anyway.

  • teigitur

    Get away!. In fact its any jewellery except a wedding band, oh and the bangles Sikh’s wear. All absolute nonsense since no studies have produced any evidence of harm. If anything a wedding band is likely to harbour more bugs than a necklace. Its all about control. BTW just for the record I am a member of the clinical staff.

  • teigitur

    Oh goody, does that mean no more comments from you then?

  • teigitur

    I refer to my answer above.

  • teigitur

    An oldmeena perfect posting…..lol

  • teigitur

    Ah no imagination, no sense of humour. Anything positive we should know about you? At all at all?

  • CullenD

    “As for giving “sex therapy” to gay couples, how on earth would a heterosexual person know how to do that? And would a gay couple having difficulties in that department really want the advice of someone so totally unqualified to give it? Would a heterosexual couple want the advice of a gay sex therapist?”
    Do I really need to point out how absurd that point is in a catholic publication. One which believes all people should heed the advice on all matters reproductive from a group of , generally elderly, celibate, virgin males. 

  • CullenD

    You read my mind, I was wondering about bangles, as they seemed most dangerous to me. I presumed wedding bands were deemed safe as when the staff disinfect their hands they also disinfect the ring.

    I agree with necklaces being a risk, just as a loose hanging tie or scarf on a non “scrub” wearing doctor would also pose a risk. Or even a loose hanging niqab, to mention religious garb again. All could cause cross contamination as they can’t be disinfected between patients.

  • teigitur

    No one disinfects pens, or changes them between each write-up, they come in and out of pockets,and  I regularly see them behind ears.We do not change attire , unless visibly contaminated between patients, there are many areas were cross contamination is possibe. I have said all along and I have seen no evidence to make me think otherwise, its about control.

  • CullenD

    But pens don’t come into direct contact with patients. And aren’t modern uniforms short sleeved for the same reason.

    Isn’t it more about risk assessment than “control”. If the rules are applied to all loose jewellery and clothing indiscriminately, whether they are effective or not, you can’t really claim discrimination. 

    That’s why the BA worker won, but the nurse lost. The judgement makes clear that H&S workers are better at judging medical risks than judges and lawyers, in the court’s opinion at least.

  • JabbaPapa

    a group of , generally elderly, celibate, virgin males

    Oh grow up !!!

    Catholics are NOT “a group of , generally elderly, celibate, virgin males”.

  • JabbaPapa

    If you had read the post, instead of just posting your typical knee-jerk commentary, you’d know that the member is writing from the basis of professional experience.

  • JabbaPapa

    My, that *would* be lovely !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Some people wouldn’t like staring at a little model of an execution device, anyway.

    Some people wouldn’t like seeing your continual anti-Catholic trolling displayed on their computer monitors…

  • CullenD

    Does The Herald believe people should follow “catholics” or the teachings of the church?

    If the answer is the church, are those teachings not formed by a group of “generally elderly, celibate, virgin males.

    And please don’t try to deflect by saying they are actually the teachings of god, not the church, that’s just a cop-out.

  • karlf

    Then why does the Church teach us that devils and demons influence our behaviour, when we now know that human nature evolved through the process of (now known as) natural selection?
    I’m sure Jabbapapa will have no problem answering this query.

  • Yh58

    If the conscience clause written into The Abortion Act is at the whim of the judiciary and therefore only an expression of cultural relativism. How can Cameron hope to deliver on this?

  • James

    Why is that a cop-out? It’s the truth.

  • CullenD

    It doesn’t matter that their teachings are based on scriptural intrepretation. I’ll reply to my own comment and break it down further to explain in the articles own words.

  • Gavin Wheeler

     Shirley Chaplin WAS explicitly allowed to wear her cross – if it was attached to the same lanyard as her ID.

    So this is not about whether she was allowed to wear a cross or display her faith, just about whether she could ignore the dress code and insist on wearing her cross exactly as she wanted. This is not discrimination against faith, just faith not being given every single special privilege it demands.

  • CullenD

    “As for giving “sex therapy” to gay couples, how on earth would a heterosexual person know how to do that?”
    If a heterosexual person is unqualified to advice a gay couple because they’ve never experienced homosexual sex, then a celibate person is unqualified to advice any sexually active couple.  

    “And would a gay (OR STRAIGHT) couple having difficulties in that department really want the advice of someone so totally unqualified to give it?”

    Stands on it’s own merit.

    “Would a heterosexual couple want the advice of a gay sex therapist?”

    By the same logic, again, would ANY couple want the advice of a group of generally elderly, celibate, virgin males.

    W.O.’s paragraph is saying that unless you have experienced “sex”, you’re unable to give advice, and any advice you do give is unwanted.

  • Acleron

    Which just makes it an argument from authority and worthless on its own.

    Reducing the levels of contamination appears to be related to subsequent infection. Over one hundred years of germ theory confirm that simple observation. The points made above concerning other objects that could be contaminated are perfectly valid and an argument for banning them all, not applying special exemptions.

  • teigitur

    I would be hard to see how a necklace could come into direct contact with a patient. A pen, for example, is a much more likely conduit.
     I have repeated asked for the results of tests( if any were ever done) that proved jewelley harboured bugs. Blank expressions!
     Front line staff’s uniforms when moving and handling patients come into contact with patients, several times a day, of course short sleeves reduce contact a bit but no-one suggets nude staff.
     But yes you are  almost correct it does apply to almost everything, but not quite, and almost everyone, but not quite. So its not quite blanket ban.

  • Kevin

    “And why exactly aren’t David Cameron and Eric Pickles supporting them?”

    Because as rational vote-seekers they know which are the bloc votes, and Catholics are not one of them.

    Possibly the majority of British Catholics prefer the “love” of their flesh-and-blood, English-speaking, meet in the pub after work neighbours than a divine person who is either pure spirit or ascended into Heaven. And they vote accordingly.

    They are wrong to do so while claiming to be Catholic, but that is probably their motive.

  • teigitur

    In addition there were far less infections around when staff wore ties, and long sleeved white coats. If they cleaned the hospitals properly(remember that awful, but clean “hospital smell” now missing!), and of course the abuse of antibiotics has played a part too.

  • tim

    Why do you think natural selection disproves devils?  Does natural selection prove that bad people cannot influence our behaviour?

  • tim

    Yes.  The European Court said that the employers were entitled to decide about the risks involved in necklaces, including crosses.  They (very properly) didn’t say whether their decision was sensible or not.

  • tim

    “could be contaminated” sounds speculative.  Do you have data? I suspect not.  All this seems to have arisen from a change in uniform.  Maybe that wasn’t justified?

  • OldMeena

    Really! – that will not do. You simply can’t define the “truth” as your own and the RC Church’s opinion.

    This is what fundamentalist Catholics do all the time: “the truth is what my Church says it is and what I believe it is”.

    There is no shortage in this world of people who will tell you “the truth” (all disagreeing with each other, of course).

    The rest of us (increasing in number daily in this partly enlightened age) shake our heads in sadness. We don’t know the truth about so many things – but we simply apply logic, reason and science as the only (as Russell said) “fairly reliable source of knowledge”. This has achieved much in a world still partly burdened by ancient religious superstitions of different kinds, and their various hatreds and conflicting stupidities.

  • JabbaPapa

    Does The Herald believe people should follow “catholics” or the teachings of the church?

    There is NO DIFFERENCE between “Catholics” and “the Church” …

    “Catholics” ARE “the Church” !!!

    Otherwise, we should of course follow The Lord Christ.

    If the answer is the church, are those teachings not formed by a group of “generally elderly, celibate, virgin males.

    a) it isn’t “the answer”

    b) even if it were, the Church is NOT “a group of , generally elderly, celibate, virgin males” — the Church is all Catholics, past, present, and future — and the Communion of the Saints ; the living, the unborn, and the dead.

    And please don’t try to deflect by saying they are actually the teachings of god, not the church, that’s just a cop-out.

    You haven’t the foggiest clue what you’re talking about.

    The Revelation is an Attribute of the Living God — not just another bunch of secular rules and regulations.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your philosophical naïvety is very depressing to witness.