In Europe, Christians Fight for the Right to Wear a Cross at Work

It's not a requirement of Christianity. Should it be protected by law?It's not a requirement of Christianity. Should it be protected by law?In the United States, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are political buzzwords, most recently heard in regard to women's health issues. But in Europe, some people are fighting for the right to honor their faith as they see fit. In a landmark case, the European Court of Human Rights will decide whether employers have the right to stop Christian employees from wearing crosses at work.

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the argument hinges on the fact that, unlike the Muslim hajib, the Sikh turban, or the Jewish yarmulke, wearing of the cross is not a requirement of the Christian faith and therefore not protected by law.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights 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." But, as with the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the law protects a person's right to practice their faith, not the right to impose it on others. (The U.S.'s separation of Church and State actually has to do with preventing the government from interfering with religion, not the other way around.) It is unclear whether wearing the cross could be considered imposing one's religious beliefs upon the general public.

It's also not clear why the case is gaining traction now. Three quarters of people polled by The Sunday Telegraph say they think it would be wrong to change the law and prohibit people from wearing crosses at work.

The defendants are two British women, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, who claim that they were discriminated against when their employers told them to stop wearing their crosses.

Eweida, 61, who worked for British Airways, was suspended in 2006 for refusing to remove her cross, which her employers said was against the airlines's dress code. Chaplin, 56, was barred from working as a nurse after the refused to hide her cross pendant.

"The irony is that when governments and courts dictate to Christians that the cross is a matter of insignificance, it becomes an even more important symbol and expression of our faith," Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said.

Andrea Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Center, said, "It is extraordinary that a Conservative government should argue that the wearing of a cross is not a generally recognized practice of the Christian faith."

"What's next?" she asked. "Will our courts overrule the Ten Commandments?"

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