UK “Cross Display” Cases Used to Whip Up Resentment

From last week’s Sunday Telegraph, and widely reported:

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 Strasbourg case hinges on whether human rights laws protect the right to wear a cross or crucifix at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

…The Government’s official response states that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.

While presented as some kind of shocking leak, the “document”  merely restates the London Appeal Court judgement of Eweida v British Airways plc [2010] EWCA Civ 80. The text of the judgement can be easily found on-line, and includes the following:

The [industrial] tribunal heard evidence from a number of practising Christians in addition to the claimant. None, including the claimant, gave evidence that they considered visible display of the cross to be a requirement of the Christian faith; on the contrary, leaders of the Christian Fellowship had stated that, “It is the way of the cross, not the wearing of it, that should determine our behaviour”. (R1, 780). The claimant’s evidence was that she had never breached the uniform policy before 20 May 2006, and that the decision to wear the cross visibly was a personal choice, not a requirement of scripture or of the Christian religion. There was no expert evidence on Christian practice or belief (although that possibility had been canvassed at the PHR in June).

That was a direct quote from the original tribunal judgement; the Appeal Court concurred:

Neither Ms Eweida nor any witness on her behalf suggested that the visible wearing of a cross was more than a personal preference on her part. There was no suggestion that her religious belief, however profound, called for it.

And as for Article 9, the Appeal Court quoted The European Court of Human Rights in Kalaç v Turkey (1997):

“Article 9 does not protect every act motivated or inspired by a religion or belief. Moreover, in exercising his freedom to manifest his religion, an individual may need to take his specific situation into account.”

So: the document seen by The Sunday Telegraph” in fact contains the unremarkable information that the UK government’s “official response” concurs with the normal understanding of Article 9 as expounded by the European Court since 1997, and that the government intends to defend the Appeal Court’s decision in Europe, rather than just cave in.

The Telegraph piece has subsequently been mischievously distorted, so that the lack of an automatic right becomes an actual ban; from Hungary, Politics.hu has an article reporting that

The co-ruling Christian Democrats are “shocked and appalled” by the British government’s claims that Christians should not wear a cross or crucifix openly at work because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, party leader Zsolt Semjen said on Monday.

…The Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday that the British government is to argue in a case at the European Court of Human Rights that Christians should not be allowed to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work. The paper said that a British Airways worker and a nurse had taken their conflict to the European Court in Strasbourg after both faced disciplinary action for wearing a cross at work.

The Politics.hu article has been partially reposted by WorldNetDaily, under the heading “Hungarians Shocked At British Cross Ban”.

The Telegraph adds the detail that

The Strasbourg cases… are supported by the Christian Legal Centre which has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights barrister.

As I noted just yesterday, a report by one of Diamond’s allies claims that Diamond has linked the cases to Islam in Britain; according to William Murray, writing on the Sharia Awareness Action Network website:

The conference [“Constitution or Sharia” – see herewas truly an international event. Barrister Paul Diamond from the United Kingdom spoke of the Islamization of London and his struggle in the courts to represent Christians whose rights have been taken from them.  He presented the case of British Airlines which permits employees to wear Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other religious clothing, but prohibits them from wearing any cross or other item identifying them as Christians. The courts actually upheld British Airlines’ right to discriminate against Christians. Diamond has founded Christian Concern in the United Kingdom to assist Christians who are persecuted as the United Kingdom becomes more Muslim oriented.

This line has also been developed with typical vulgarity and hateful excess by Pamela Geller:

The cross is an insult to devout Muslims. Sharia in the West. Did anyone think this kind of submission possible after 911? And it’s worse than that… I won’t be a slave to barbarity, despite the traitors in power.

(Geller was originally part of the conference line-up alongside Diamond, although in the event she didn’t attend)

As I’ve written previously (at further length), my personal view (if anyone is interested) is that British society is in the process of trying to adapt to an individualistic culture in which people increasingly feel that their their professional lives should not completely stifle their sense of personal identity. This isn’t a bad development: terrible things have happened because people gave up any sense of individual responsibility once they were given a uniform and a job to do. It has long been recognised in the UK that there should be some accommodation for personal conscience (I blogged on this here), and the area where there is most likely to be a conflict here in is in the area of religion. It’s reasonable for Christians to fight their corner while these processes are still being thought through, but using the politics of resentment to drive the argument is unattractive.

UPDATE: Taking the Chinese whispers even further, Interfax reports from Russia that:

A picket in defense of Christians’ rights in the UK was held near the British embassy in Moscow on Wednesday.

The picket was organized by the Orthodox public movement Narodny Sobor in response to the decision made by the British authorities to fire people for openly wearing crosses, Narodny Sobor told Interfax-Religion.

…According to earlier reports, the British authorities intend to defend the legality of the ban on public wearing of crosses in the UK in the European Court of Human Rights.

I previously blogged on Narodny Sobor in 2007.

9 Responses

  1. Richard, just because the case of Eweida v British Airways plc [2010] EWCA Civ 80. was lost does not make it either right, nor fair.

    People can wear hijabs at British Airways, which are far more ostentatious displays than a small cross (that worn by Nadia Eweida was smaller than a 10p piece).

    And hijabs are NOT compulsory items for Muslim women to wear. As I recall, Sikh bangles were allowed, as a Kara is one of the five Ks of Sikhism.

    But the issue of pitting a small cross as a personal symbol against hijabs which are equally “optional” is what is so grossly unfair.

    Splitting hairs over symbols of religious obligation or personally elected symbols only adds to the divide.

    Either we live in a secular society, in which no-one has an automatic “right” to flaunt their religious symbols, or we live in a pluralistic society.

    Ironically we live in a society with an established church – with a monarch as head of this church and 24 “Lords Spiritual” holding office merely because of their faith. But in this so-called “Christian” society, non-Christians are allowed to flaunt their faith openly, yet Christians are not.

    It may send a bee into Geller’s bonnet, but so what? It is wrong to allow one religious symbol, i.e. the hijab (which has only become “obligatory” as Islamism and Salafism has gained in political influence globally) and to make Christians hide their own faith. This is reworking the principles of the Pact of Omar into modern society.

    Either all symbols should be allowed, or none.

    However, one of the Sikh 5 Ks is the “obligation” to carry a kirpan, or small dagger.

    That has caused problems in schools where tensions between Muslim and Sikh students have exploded.

    When is a religious symbol such as a dagger NOT an offensive weapon?

    I think people should be treated equally – but it is also true that Islamists have pushed the hijab and burka forward as a political statement, and then when opposition is met by the authorities (as in France and the school ban) to then claim victimhood.

    But I do not see that equanimity of approach in your statement: “but using the politics of resentment to drive the argument is unattractive” being applied to Christians.

    For goodness sake – many political Christians are frightening, but those Christians who are “using the politics of resentment” now have good cause to feel resentful, and the historic past masters of the “using the politics of resentment” are the Islamists themselves, and their appeasers/enablers such as Cherie Blair (vis a vis the case of Shabina Begum and her “right” to wear a jilbab).

    Treating society as having different sets of rules for different people only creates tensions and divisions and does not lead to harmony. The outgoing Archbish of Canetrbury was a fool to suggest sharia law should be “inevitable” in Britain.

    One law for all is the only way to create a harmonious society – anything else will eventually evoke the other side of multiculturalism – the dark spectres of ghettoisation and interfaith warfare.

    • I gave my own thoughts at the end of the post. There was a good piece by Andrew Brown last week which made a point I could have added:

      Does Christianity demand that its adherents wear a cross? The courts here have decided that it doesn’t, but I’m not sure the question is well framed. You might as well ask “does Christianity demand that you go to church on Sundays?” or “does it demand pacifism?” There are just too many Christianities for such a question to make sense.

      …So the case should be judged on what she is trying to convey, and I don’t think that “I am the sort of Christian who wants to advertise the fact, discreetly” is a message so awful that BA is justified in suppressing it.

      However, my main concern in the above is with the Telegraph reporting on the government’s position without bothering to explain properly the basis for it, and the distorted claims in other reports that the government wishes to bring in a ban and that the motive is because Muslims supposedly regard the cross as an “insult”.

      • You are right to point out that the notion of Muslims finding a cross “insulting” is silly and an example of biased reporting.

        But Andrew Brown’s comment about there being “many Christianities” is equally true of Islam. Islam still has pluralism, but this was more noticeable before the spread of Salafism/Wahhabism/Deobandism – which happened mainly in the 1960s when King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was funding the global Muslim Brotherhood and bankrolling the building of mosques in Western nations.

        The original Salafists of Egypt – as represented by Muhammad Abduh (1849 – 1905) – were a lot more pluralistic and tolerant than their modern counterparts. Abduh encouraged reconciliation between Shias and Sunnis, and allowed statues of politicians – not something that the ideologues of current Nour Party believe in. (Apparently the Nour party was funded from Saudi Arabia).

        And the spread of Deobandism (mostly via Tablighi Jamaat, and with famous examples at Birmingham’s Central Mosque where Riyadh ul-Haq caused controversy) in turn owes its existence to “Saudi” Wahhabism.

        Sayyid Ahmad Rai Barelwi (also called Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed, 1786 – 1831) travelled from Peshawar to Arabia at the start of the 19th century, and encountered Wahhabist ideas, just after the first “Saudi” state was disbanded (the current “Saudi” state is the third). On his return to India, between 1871 and 1831, he launched the Naqshbandi revivalist movement. He also waged a violent jihad against Sikhs and was killed in retaliation. However, his writings and beliefs were to profoundly influence Muhammad Mazhar ibn Lutf ‘Ali ibn Muhammad Hasan al-Siddiqi al-Hanafi Nanautwi (1823 – 1885) who was the tutor of Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi, one of the main founders of the Darul Uloom at Deoband. In 1926 Tablighi Jamaat emerged as a missionary-focused offshoot of Deobandism.

        Even though Deobandism and Wahhabism have a lot in common, and Saudi universities such as that in Medina churn out radical West-despising Salafists, it is still a mistake for those who support Islam and for those who criticise it to assume that there is only one Islam.

        And the legal judgement against Nadia Eweida is based, I believe, upon a presumption that there is only one main interpretation of Islam.

  2. well said Adrian

  3. […] and on the various religious liberty cases he is known for handling (I discussed some of these here): First, spread the truth. We must move out of our own sphere of influence and create debate among […]

  4. […] The first story, entitled “No Right to Wear a Cross at Work”, can be seen here. It concerns court cases brought by Christians who believe that their wish to wear a cross at work should enjoy the same protection as that given to symbols of minority religions. The UK government, following the London Appeal Court judgement of Eweida v British Airways plc [2010] EWCA Civ 80, takes the view that the wish to wear the cross is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, and so should not be seen as an automatic right; however, the text of the Express article mischievously gives the impression that the government wishes to actively bring in a blanket “workplace ban”. The Appeal Court’s ruling may be wrong, but how is that the fault of Muslims? If anything, the efforts of immigrant religious minorities to achieve accommodation (such as those of Sikh bus drivers and conductors in 1969) have opened the way for (and have perhaps even inspired) Christian activism on the issue . I discussed the background more broadly here. […]

  5. […] Yesterday (and in an update added earlier today) I noted Kevin Carroll’s use of a narrative of persecution against Christians in the UK when speaking at a recent anti-Islam conference in the USA organised by Pamela Geller. Extrapolating extravagantly from an article in the Daily Express, Carroll, who is the deputy leader of the English Defence League, suggested that the lack of an automatic right to display a cross in British workplaces was due to Muslims, and that the UK government intends to use the police to enforce a general ban. I looked at the actual court cases here. […]

  6. […] The first story, entitled “No Right to Wear a Cross at Work”, can be seen here. It concerns court cases brought by Christians who believe that their wish to wear a cross at work should enjoy the same protection as that given to symbols of minority religions. The UK government, following the London Appeal Court judgement of Eweida v British Airways plc [2010] EWCA Civ 80, takes the view that the wish to wear the cross is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, and so should not be seen as an automatic right; however, the text of the Express article mischievously gives the impression that the government wishes to actively bring in a blanket “workplace ban”. The Appeal Court’s ruling may be wrong, but how is that the fault of Muslims? If anything, the efforts of immigrant religious minorities to achieve accommodation (such as those of Sikh bus drivers and conductors in 1969) have opened the way for (and have perhaps even inspired) Christian activism on the issue of wearing the cross. I discussed the background more broadly here. […]

  7. […] discussed the background to the case heard at Strasbourg here. Carey has been making such complaints for a while, and in 2010 he became associated with the […]

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