Crosses at Work

News this morning that the Government is going to go to the ECHR and fight against the appeals under Article 9 on a number of cases.

In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross.

It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.

A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.

The Government’s position received an angry response last night from prominent figures including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

He accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians and said it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined in official life.

The Government’s refusal to say that Christians have a right to display the symbol of their faith at work emerged after its plans to legalise same-sex marriages were attacked by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain.

Now, before we all get hysterical, it’s worth pointing out that there are a number of cases where the right to wear a cross should be restricted. For example, in medical and surgical environments, a piece of neck jewellery can be an infection hazard. Let’s remember that in the case of Shirley Chaplin, the nurse was offered the ability to wear a brooch with a cross in it as an alternative. This seems to me to be a valid compromise.

But beyond issues of health and safety, if what is being proposed is the right for employers to ban their employees from wearing a religious symbol per se (for example, the delivery man forbidden by his firm to have a palm cross in his van, or Nadia Eweida, banned by BA from wearing a cross at the check-in counter) then this is quite frankly the most egregious assault on religious liberty in this country for 200 years.

And of course, the logical consequences are clear. The Government is arguing that since wearing a cross is not an essential part of the Christian faith, Christians should have no right to do so. However, the Qu’ran doesn’t specify what “modesty” actually entails for a muslim woman, so if a cross is not an essential of faith then neither is the hijab.

What is happening here is a direct assault by our so-called liberal society on actual liberties. To read Article 9 in such a manner as to make “manifesting religion” only mean specific actions explicitly outlined by the relevant religion is such a narrow reading of that Article. People of faith seek to manifest that faith in their entire lives, not just for two hours on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday). Wearing a cross is such a manifestation.

Of course, there is an amazingly simply solution to this. All we need is an emergency measure in July’s General Synod to add a new Canon to the Canons of the Church of England. I propose the following wording,

B45 Of the Wearing of Crosses and other Christian Symbols

The wearing of a cross, crucifix, ichthus or other traditional Christian symbol by both clergy and laity is a practice much to be commended. It is esteemed by the Church of England as a very suitable manifestation of faith in Christ in the daily life of not only confirmed members of the Church of England but also other Christians in this land. As such all should be enthusiastically encouraged to wear such symbols and reminded that a daily witness to Christ is essential in the life of any Christian.

There you go – the state religion says that wearing a cross IS a good thing and “a very suitable manifestation of faith in Christ”. Get your Article 9 around that.

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