Christian Nurse Loses Battle to Wear Crucifix at Work

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: January 15, 2013

The Employment Tribunal found ‘No Discrimination’ despite the ruling that a Christian nurse cannot wear a cross for religious reasons though a Muslim can wear a hijab for religious reasons. On January 15th, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that the hospital could make such policies - if justified by health and safety reasons.

A Christian nurse of Exeter, Mrs. Shirley Chaplin, who refused to remove a crucifix at work lost her claim for discrimination after the Employment Tribunal Panel ruled that she should have reached a compromise with her hospital employers, reports the Times.  Mrs Chaplin had been told in June 2009 to remove the Cross she had worn around her neck since her confirmation, nearly 40 years ago, and which she had worn every day throughout her 30 years as a nurse, reports the Christian Legal Center. Mrs Chaplin, who had worked at the trust since 1989, felt that she was being forced to choose between her job and her faith. After refusing to take the cross off, she was moved to a desk job.  The Royal Devon and Exeter National Health Service Trust explained that their uniform policy for religious and cultural symbols allows the wearing of the hijab, because it is a mandatory Islamic cultural manifestation. Meanwhile, the Cross, the single most distinctive manifestation of the Christian faith for 2000 years, pre-eminent across all Catholic and Protestant denominations and countries, is not given legal protection.  The NHS trust's uniform and dress code prohibits front-line staff from wearing any type of necklace in case patients try to grab them. It offered Mrs Chaplin the compromise of wearing her cross pinned inside a uniform lapel or pocket. She could not accept that, and explained: "I was being asked to hide my religion and my faith. I found it disrespectful." She also said the hospital had rejected any of the compromises she had suggested, such as wearing a shorter chain, reports BBC. Mrs. Chaplin has the support of a number of bishops who claim that Christians are being marginalised in an increasingly secular society. The Archbishop of Canterbury has also criticised a “wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness” that prevents people from wearing religious symbols at work. The Tribunal found that there was no discrimination because all staff were treated equally. No one was permitted to wear a cross around their neck for religious reasons, but if someone wanted to wear a hijab for religious reasons they could. The Employment Tribunal held that the ‘health and safety’ reasons for removing the Cross were justified. “What the Trust doesn’t realise, as it seeks to enforce its uniform policy in the way it has, is that it sends out a very clear message to Christians working in the Trust or considering working for the Trust in the future that they will have to ‘hide’ their faith. The message is clear: Christians whose faith motivates their vocation and care of patients do not appear to be welcome at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust," commented Mrs. Chaplin to the Christian Legal Center. In 2011, thw case went before the European Court of Human Rights. Ms Chaplin argues that her rights under Article 9 are insufficiently protected in UK law. On January 15th, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that the hospital could make such policies - if justified by health and safety reasons. The hospital did however not sufficiently prove that health and safety concerns were immanent by her wearing of a cross. Read more: Summary of the Observatory on this and related cases in the European Court of Human rights. Sources and further information: