British Woman Wins Landmark Religious Freedom Case, 3 Other Cases Rejected

Europe's human rights court ruled in favor of a woman claiming to have been fired for failing to remove a cross necklace while she was working in what has widely been seen as a landmark judgment.

Nadia Eweida, 60, who worked at a check-in desk for British Airways at Heathrow Airport, claimed that she was forced out of her British Airways job in 2006 for refusing to cover or remove her cross necklace.

British Airways argued that wearing the necklace was in violation of company uniform dress codes.

The case made it to the European Court of Human Rights after the case was rejected by an employment tribunal, The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Lawyers representing Eweida argued that the airlines' actions were in conflict with both articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibit religious discrimination while allowing the universal right of "freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

The judgment was published in Strasbourg, France and stated that Eweida's right to wear the cross necklace outweighed British Airline's attempt to "project a certain corporate image."

"Ms Eweida's cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance … there was no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorized, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees had any negative impact on British Airways' brand or image," according to the court ruling.

In addition to the court ruling in favor of Eweida, the court ruled against three other cases regarding British citizens who claimed they were fired for their Christian beliefs.

Shirley Chaplin, 57, was removed from her position as a nurse with the Royal Devon and Exeter National Health System Trust and reassigned to an administrative position. The punishment came after she also refused to remove a crucifix she wore with her uniform.

Gary McFarlane, 51, a marriage counselor, was fired after he raised concerns that his Christian beliefs might prevent him from providing therapy to homosexuals.

The third case involved Islington Council registrar Lillian Ladele, who was fired after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies because of her beliefs. Other staff members were able to conduct the ceremonies, but the Islington Council said her actions went against the council's equality policies.

Still, Eweida's court win is seen as an historic case in the fight for religious freedom.

"Today's judgment is an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense." […] "She had just as much a right to express her faith as a Sikh man in a turban or a Muslim woman with a headscarf … British courts lost their way in her case and Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance," Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said in a statement.

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