BRITISH courts did not strike a "fair balance" between competing
rights when they ruled that British Airways had the right to ban
staff from wearing crosses, European judges ruled on Tuesday.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the desire of
Nadia Eweida (right), an official of the airline's
check-in desk, to wear a visible cross was a "manifestation of her
religious belief" and, as such, was a "fundamental right" protected
by Article Nine of the European Convention of Human Rights.
"On one side of the scales was Ms Eweida's desire to manifest
her religious belief," five of the seven judges said in a majority
judgment. "On the other side of the scales was the employer's wish
to project a certain corporate image. The court considers that,
while this aim was undoubtedly legitimate, the domestic courts
accorded it too much weight.
"Where there is no evidence of any real encroachment on the
interests of others, the domestic courts failed sufficiently to
protect [Ms Eweida's] right to manifest her religion."
The Court awarded her damages of €2000 (£1660) with €30,000
The Court had been asked to adjudicate on four cases of
religious discrimination rejected by British courts. The Court took
a different view in the case of a nurse, Shirley Chaplin. The
prohibition on wearing a cross as a necklace was imposed on her by
the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust "to reduce the risk
of injury when handling patients".
The Court said: "The reason for asking her to remove the cross,
namely the protection of health and safety on a hospital ward, was
inherently of a greater magnitude than that which applied in
respect of Ms Eweida."
The judges said that "hospital managers were better placed to
make decisions about clinical safety than a court."
In two other linked cases, the court ruled against former
Islington registrar Lillian Ladele, dismissed for refusing to
conduct civil partnerships; and Relate counsellor Gary McFarlane,
dismissed over concerns about his attitude towards the provision of
psycho-sexual therapy to same-sex couples.
In both cases, the judges said that Islington Borough Council
and Relate's policies were pursuing a "legitimate aim" of
preventing discrimination towards same-sex couples. As a result,
there was a "wide margin of appreciation" open to the domestic
authorities when weighing the competing rights, which the European
judges ruled had not been exceeded.
Reaction to the judgment was swift. Prime Minister David Cameron
tweeted: "Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at
work has been upheld - ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, welcomed the judgment,
saying: "Christians are not obliged to wear a cross but should be
free to show their love for and trust in Jesus Christ in this way
if they so wish.
"The Equality Act encourages employers to embrace diversity -
including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray
with someone should not be something about which courts and
tribunals have to rule."
Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical
Alliance, warned that the judgment "has shown a hierarchy of rights
now exists in UK law". He remarked: "We hope that, in the light of
today's decision, employers, public bodies, and courts will seek to
understand religious belief better, and build relationships with
faith groups to help achieve this. The alternative of a society
that is in perpetual legal conflict with itself is both undesirable
A fuller report will appear in Friday's edition of the