Britons take workplace religion fight to Europe rights court

Tue Sep 4, 2012 1:14pm EDT
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By Gilbert Reilhac

PARIS (Reuters) - British employers trample on religious freedoms by barring staff from wearing crosses at work, requiring them to provide sex advice to gays, or to preside at same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, four Christians told Europe's top rights court on Tuesday.

The cases provide a further test for the European court, which has in the past allowed member states considerable leeway concerning workplace tolerance of religious beliefs and symbols.

The plaintiffs, aged 51 to 61, told the European Court of Human Rights, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, that British law discriminated against them and failed to protect their religious freedom at the workplace.

A decision from the court, a body under the aegis of the Council of Europe, could take several months.

One plaintiff, Nadia Eweida, was sent home without pay from British Airways in 2006 for wearing a small silver cross around her neck that violated the company's dress code.

"Considering that we spend 80 percent of our time at work, what would be the value of a right that stops the minute one enters the workplace?" Eweida's lawyer, James Dingemans, argued.

Dingemans told the rights court his client worked alongside colleagues who were allowed to wear religious symbols such as the Sikh turban, the Muslim headscarf or the Jewish skullcap.

In a similar incident, nurse Shirley Chaplin was told by her employers to remove a crucifix around her neck as it could cause injury if a patient pulled at it.   Continued...