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Christian nurse loses crucifix case

7 April 2010

Shirley Chaplin, a Christian nurse, has lost her discrimination case at an employment tribunal after she was ordered by her hospital to remove a necklace with a small crucifix for health and safety reasons.

Chaplin argued that her religious beliefs would be violated if she removed the crucifix she had worn for 30 years at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust hospital.

The ruling follows a related defeat at the Court of Appeal in February earlier this year for Nadia Eweida, a British Airways check-in assistant who complained that she was not allowed to wear a necklace with a small cross (see solicitorsjournal.com 12 February 2010).

However, by the time her case reached the Court of Appeal, British Airways had amended its uniform code to permit the wearing of small crosses and other religious symbols.

The employment tribunal in the Chaplin case followed the Court of Appeal in ruling that the wearing of a cross by a Christian was a personal choice rather than a religious requirement protected by anti-discrimination laws.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust said that Chaplin worked in an infection and isolation ward caring mainly for elderly patients. The spokeswoman said that following her refusal to accept a number of compromise solutions, Chaplin was redeployed to an administrative role.

“Sensible and sensitive solutions were offered to Mrs Chaplin,” she said. “It is regrettable that her uncompromising stance and the involvement of parties external to the Trust determined to play out the case in the media may have deflected her from agreeing one of these solutions.

“Our view was and remains that staff should comply with Trust policy on dress code/uniform and that wearing a necklace runs the risk of compromising patient and staff safety. Our policy is entirely consistent with Department of Health guidelines.”

However, Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre said: “The decision shows a worrying lack of common sense. No evidence supported the Trust’s health and safety position, yet the tribunal considered removing Mrs Chaplin’s cross as a proportionate response to a ‘health and safety’ risk that was never established.

“The extent to which the Trust is prepared to stop Mrs Chaplin manifesting her religious beliefs is remarkable.”

Williams said she hoped the Employment Appeal Tribunal would reverse the decision and allow Mrs Chaplin to wear her cross visibly.

She said the Trust allowed Muslim women to wear the hijab for religious reasons.

“It would seem that, without evidence, the Trust decided that the wearing of the hijab was a mandatory Islamic cultural manifestation despite the fact that its wearing is banned in public by some Islamic states,” Williams said.

“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.”

Williams added that Chaplin had been prepared to have a magnetic clasp inserted in her chain so it would come away easily if pulled by a patient.

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