Thursday

23rd Feb 2017

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."

Dutch plan global fund for safe abortion

The Dutch want to lead efforts to make up the shortfall in aid for safe abortions around the world, after Donald Trump announced the US would not fund such projects.

EU to tighten rules on social benefits

EU citizens working away from their home countries will face tougher hurdles if they need to claim benefits, under plans from the commission.

Visual Data

EU farming policy: The damage done by 20 years of inertia

The EU Commission will ask the public later this week how the common agricultural policy should be overhauled. Data from the past two decades reveals a catalogue of missed chances and failed reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  2. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  3. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  4. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  5. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  7. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  9. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  10. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  11. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe