Christians Win Right To Wear Cross At Work, European Court Rules

Christian British Airways clerk Nadia Eweida

Europe's highest court concluded Tuesday that British Airways discriminated against a clerk for demanding that she remove her cross necklace. At the same time, the court ruled that a person's right to express their religion wasn't absolute -- particularly if it led to the discrimination of gays and lesbians.

British Airways suspended Nadia Eweida in 2006 when she refused to comply with the uniform code that banned visible religious jewelry. The airline ultimately changed its policy, and allowed Eweida to return to work five months later. But Eweida, now 60, took her case to the courts.

More:U.K. Christians Punished For Wearing Crosses At Work

A British employment tribunal, The Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court all rejected Eweida's claim, sparking a national debate in England over the persecution of Christians in public life. Critics pointed out that British Airways allowed employees to wear religious clothing, like turbans and hijabs.

Eweida then brought her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which ruled that she had the right to manifest her religion, since her tiny silver crucifix didn't negatively impact the airline's brand.

Both Eweida and the British prime minister saw this as a symbolic win for Christians everywhere. The Associated Press reports:

Eweida, 60, said when she heard the verdict "I was jumping for joy and saying 'thank you Jesus.'"

"It's a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith," she said.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that he was "delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld."

It was a landmark case at a moment when many Christians in Great Britain fear that they are becoming marginalized. A report published last year by Christians in Parliament, a group of eight U.K. parliamentary members, argued that the secularization of society had led to "a narrowing of the space for the articulation, expression and demonstration of Christian belief."

But most of the cases cropping up in British courts involve the conflict between Christian belief and the rights of gays and lesbians, and the European court struck down two cases of this type. Local registrar Lillian Ladele claimed that her Christian beliefs prevented her from authorizing same-sex civil partnerships, and marriage counselor Gary McFarlane refused to take gay couples as clients. The European court decided that the right to religious expression was limited when it came to the discrimination of others.

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