Thursday, March 15, 2012

British Government Argues That Christians Cannot Wear a Cross

The Daily Telegraph reports that British government officials are declaring that Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work.  They are preparing to offer this argument to the European Court of Human Rights in a case brought by two British women, to counter an appeal on their claims that their employers discriminated against them by banning the display of their crosses in the workplace, and they were disciplined when they refused to remove or hide them.

Nadia Eweida, an employee of British Airways and a Coptic Christian, was told that she should remove or cover up a small cross that she wore on a small chain about her neck.  BA said that the wearing of the cross breached their uniform policy, but Eweida protested that the cross was unobtrusive and that employees of other faiths, such as Muslims and Sikhs, were allowed to wear their symbols such as hijabs and turbans.  She was placed on unpaid leave when she refused to remove or cover the cross, and she refused to be moved to a position in which she did not have contact with the public.  BA eventually changed its uniform policy, but Eweida lost her appeal because the ‘offense’ occurred under the old rules in effect at that time.

Shirley Chaplin was a nurse with the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust when told that she would have to remove her small crucifix from around her neck because it presented a safety hazard.  She was moved to a desk position after she refused.

In both cases, the women were eventually dismissed.  They lost in the Court of Appeals and were refused permission to go on to the Supreme Court.  They have therefore exhausted all opportunities for redress within the United Kingdom, so they are taking the affair up with the European court in Strasbourg.  They are basing their claims on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights:
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. 
Authorities argue that wearing a cross is not a “requirement of the faith” for Christians.  In fact, in a pathetic attempt at word association, they go so far as to say that the women’s claim is “manifestly un-founded”.  In a statement prepared by the Foreign Office, it concludes
The Government submit that… the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9, and…the restriction on the applicants' wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.  In neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith, still less one that is regarded (including by the applicants themselves) as a requirement of the faith. 
But lawyers for the plaintiffs respond that the term “manifesting” carries with it a meaning that an outward display of faith, whether required or not, is part of that right.

Left unsaid in many of the commentaries is the question of how a government has the authority to dictate the manner of religious practice.  While this is a European case, my American readers should recognise that this is an alien idea to the concept of religious freedom as it has been understood in the US.

(Let me also interject a comment about a common misconception about the requirement of Muslim women to wear the hijab – there is no such requirement in the Qur’an or the Hadith, only that women should dress modestly.  For example, Sura 24:31, advising women to cover their “adornments”, refers to a then [7th century] new sense of public modesty rather than a covering of the face or head.  The hijab did not become an issue until the 1970s, first with the Shi’ites in Lebanon and then more widely publicized with the coverage of the Iranian revolt in 1977, mostly used as a political sign of opposition to the old regime under the Shah.  The president of Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, decreed the wearing of the hijab to be mandatory in 1985 for all females regardless of religion.  Infractions were punished by canings (up to 100 lashes) and imprisonment for six months.  “While modesty is a religious prescription, the wearing of a veil is not a religious requirement of Islam, but a matter of cultural milieu.”)

The case shows the extent to which government bureaucrats and functionaries (perhaps apparatchiki is a better term) are controlling the daily lives of European citizens, without the ability of those citizens, or even of their elected officials, to overcome their pronouncements.  Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said, “The PM’s personal view is that people should be able to wear crosses. Our view is that the Equality Act as it stands should allow people to express their views in this kind of way.”  Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and a quixotic Conservative, wrote that allowing an employee to wear a crucifix is a “reasonable and harmless indulgence”.
I don’t know the process by which government lawyers have decided this is the right way to go, but someone needs to march into their room, grab them by the lapels, and tell them not to be such confounded idiots. . . .
Mrs Eweida is a member of a group – Christians – and she wanted to express her membership of that group in a small and inoffensive way.  She was suspended and sent home.  She was told she could not have contact with the public.  She was discriminated against.  She did suffer disadvantage.  It is plain as a pikestaff.  Government lawyers should run up the white flag now.  Never mind Strasbourg: it is time for some common sense. 
Religious leaders have joined in.  Lord Carey, retired Archbishop of Canterbury (the clerical head of the Church of England) said, 

The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate judgment of matters of theology and worship about which they can claim no expertise.  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.
The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, post-modern as ever, opined that the crucifix had become little more than jewelry that “religious people make and hang on to” as a substitute for legitimate faith, and that “the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”  In response to his many usual critics, a spokesman said that he had been quoted out of context, but Andrea Williams of the British group Christian Concern countered that “it’s not a time for the archbishop of Canterbury to be obscure and incomprehensible.  It’s time for him to find his voice.  He needs to be clear that for many the cross is the symbol of Christianity, and he needs to empower Christians up and down the country to wear the cross as a symbol of hope."

John Mugabi Sentamu, Archbishop of York (second to the Archbishop of Canterbury) said that government officials are “beginning to meddle in areas that they ought not to.  I think they should leave that to the courts to make a judgment.”

Similarly, Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough, said, “If you say wearing a cross isn’t a compulsory part of Christianity, we agree.  But it is a duty of a Christian to be public about their faith as well as private, and that is clear New Testament teaching.”

Add this needless controversy to moves by the government to sanction same-sex marriage despite the doctrine of most churches, compelling them in essence to comply to a new doctrine with which they strongly disagree, along with the overtly accommodationist stance for other religions, particularly in its literally Islamophobic reactions such as the BBC admitting that it screens out stories unfavourable to Islam.

In America, we see the same attitude.  There is the ham-handed handling of the contraception issue with Roman Catholic associations such as hospitals.  First, the administration was blitheringly blindsided by the reaction of the Bishops to an Obamacare requirement to provide contraception and arguably abortifacient services to its communicants, in direct contravention to church doctrine.  The accommodation that Obama and Sibelius then proposed was to have the church side-step the issue in that, rather than being forced to provide these services, Catholic organizations would instead be forced to subsidize an insurance group that would do the same thing – a cut-out that would end up forcing the church, though less directly, to still violate its teachings.    Psychologists call this ‘projection’ – in this case a stunningly cynical assumption that the Bishops have the same attitude to seriously held belief systems that the Left does: they are just looking for an accommodation or a cover for getting around the problem, a ‘wink and a nudge’ excuse.

Just today we see a story about how the New York Times publishes an ad calling on Catholics to renounce their religion, but it refuses to publish an ad calling for Muslims to do the same.  Another story details how federal aid to a food bank in Indiana has been withdrawn because workers there offer a voluntary opportunity for prayer, separate and distinct from handing out food.

These are more examples of the cultural war that is being waged by the ‘enlightened’ Sophisticati (the Anointed, as Thomas Sowell would call them) on the benighted fools that, for example, “cling to their guns and religion” as Obama said in an unguarded moment.  This tone deaf, wilfully ignorant and agnostic arrogance is itching to say “Come now – you can’t be serious.”

Yes.  Yes we are.
Update:  The court at Strasbourg has reported out.

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