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, 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 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.