Monday

29th Aug 2016

Airline worker's rights breached by crucifix ban, court says

  • The Court judgement offers qualified support for religious rights at work. (Photo: EUobserver)

The rights of a British Airways check-in worker to express her faith were infringed when she was preventing from wearing a crucifix while working, according to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In a landmark judgement on religious freedom of expression on Tuesday (15 January), seven ECHR judges ruled by a five to two majority that Nadia Eweida's right to freedom of religion had been breached. They also awarded her €2,000 in compensation and €30,000 in legal costs. The cases were brought to the court to appeal against judgements in the UK's domestic courts.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

In a statement, the Strasbourg-based court judged that "a fair balance had not been struck between, on the one side of the scales, her desire to manifest her religious belief and to be able to communicate that belief to others, and on the other side of the scales, her employer's wish to project a certain corporate image (no matter how legitimate that aim might be)".

The judges added that other employees had been allowed to wear hijabs and turbans, noting that "the fact that the company had amended the uniform code to allow for visible wearing of religious symbolic jewellery showed that the earlier prohibition had not been of crucial importance."

It added that the British courts had given "too much weight" to the corporate interests of British Airways.

However, the Strasbourg-based court threw out the claims of three other Christian applicants who had also claimed that they had been victims of religious discrimination, including a case similar to the Elweida judgement in which Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, had been asked to remove her crucifix when working on a hospital ward.

In the case of Ms Chaplin, however, the judges were unanimous in finding that "the protection of health and safety on a hospital ward, was inherently of much greater importance" than in Ms Eweida's case.

Meanwhile, the court rejected the appeals of two complainants, Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar dismissed from her job after refusing to officiate at civil ceremonies for same-sex couples, and Gary McFarlane, a counsellor fired for refusing to offer sex therapy to same-sex couples.

Despite this, the judges from Macedonia and Malta criticised the majority ruling against Ladele, asserting that her employer, London's Islington borough authority, should have respected the "cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance of her conscientious objection". Judges Vucinic and De Gaetano accused the Borough of "blinkered political correctness…which clearly favoured 'gay rights' over fundamental human rights" in forcing Ladele's dismissal.

The applicants can still appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court before the judgements are finalised.

The ECHR is not an EU-body, instead serving as arbiter on the Convention on Human Rights agreed by the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe.

The rulings prompted a mixed response from religious organisations, with secular groups claiming that the court ruling meant that religious rights could not be used to circumvent equal treatment.

Roger Kiska, senior legal counsel to the Alliance Defending Freedom, said that the "victory for one of the Christian applicants is a significant step forward for religious freedom in Europe.” However, he added that it was “extremely disappointing that the Court ruled against the three other applicants and it is hoped that they will appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court.”

For his part, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the UK's National Secular Society, commented that "this ruling demonstrates that UK equality law is fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and that there is no need to change UK law." He added that "any attempt to do so by the Government would therefore signal a clear desire to give privileged treatment to religious believers."

Meanwhile, LGBT campaigners said that the Strasbourg-court had ruled that religious beliefs could not be cited to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld, vice-president of the European Parliament's LGBT intergroup, said that the Court had "showed conclusively that the principle of equality and equal treatment cannot be circumvented with a simple reference to religion."

Warning over Europe's sugar-guzzling habits

Europeans get through a huge amount of sugary drinks, causing serious risks to their health, a study backed by anti-obesity campaigners suggests. But southern Europe has seen a marked decline in consumption.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary plans to reinforce border fence against migrants
  2. France's highest court suspends burkini ban
  3. Greeks paid €1bn more in taxes in June
  4. Greek minister denounces EU letter on former statistics chief
  5. Turks seeking asylum in Greece may cause diplomatic row
  6. Merkel becomes digital resident of Estonia
  7. Report: VW will compensate US dealers with €1bln
  8. EU mulls making Google pay news media for content

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleBrussels - home of beer, fries, chocolate and Google’s Public Policy Team - follow @GoogleBrussels
  2. HuaweiSeeds for the Future Programme to Bring Students from 50 countries to China for Much-Needed ICT Training
  3. EFASpain is not a democratic state. EFA expresses its solidarity to Arnaldo Otegi and EH Bildu
  4. UNICEFBoko Haram Violence in Lake Chad Region Leaves Children Displaced and Trapped
  5. HuaweiMaking Cities Smarter and Safer
  6. GoogleHow Google Makes Connections More Secure For Users
  7. EGBAThe EU Court of Justice Confirms the Application of Proportionality in Assessing Gambling Laws
  8. World VisionThe EU and Member States Must Not Use Overseas Aid for Promoting EU Interests
  9. Dialogue PlatformInterview: "There is a witch hunt against the Gulen Movement in Turkey"
  10. ACCAACCA Calls for ‘Future Looking’ Integrated Reporting Culture With IIRC and IAAER
  11. EURidNominate Your Favourite .eu or .ею Website for the .EU Web Awards 2016 Today!
  12. Dialogue PlatformAn Interview on Gulen Movement & Recent Coup Attempt in Turkey