The British government asserts that Christians have no right to wear a cross or crucifix at work and is eager to prove it in court.
The case was initiated by two British women Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, after they were punished for refusing to take off their religious symbols.
Nadia Ewedia is a British Airways employee, who was asked to cover her cross while at work, and was placed on unpaid leave when she refused to do so. Shirley Chaplin is a nurse moved to a desk position after she refused to remove a crucifix.
The women claim they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing a cross and crucifix respectively.
The government position is that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore employers can ban the wearing of the cross at work.
The case has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which is to decide on whether the right to wear a cross is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 9 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Eweida and Chaplin claim banning the cross and crucifix at work violates their human right to manifest their religion.
But the authorities insist that since wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” it does not fall under the remit of Article 9.
Lawyers for the two women say “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.
The case has stirred up British society. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, accused authorities of “dictating” to Christians, saying it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined.
Many say the government’s position in this case is largely shaped by the British Roman Catholic Church’s attacks on the government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage.
The plans were announced by conservatives during the parliamentary elections of 2010.
The country’s PM David Cameron himself spoke in favor of ending the ban on same-sex marriage at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2011. People should embrace same-sex marriage because of their conservatism and their commitment to family values and not in spite of it, Cameron said.