Pray 4 freedom of religious expression

Burqa-banned? Hijab-Yes? Cross-No? – this was the original title of this article until I saw the issue in more general terms: the freedom to express one’s religion.

Prayer for freedom of religious expression and freedom to change one’s  religion are included in my Prayer Pilgrimage. I have argued elsewhere for Muslim women to have the freedom to wear the burqa. Here is an example of what can happen to a Christian when religious freedoms are removed. Religious freedoms are important.  

On 6 April a UK tribunal ruled that a Christian nurse cannot wear a cross, even though female Muslim doctors can wear a hijab (head scarf).

This was the introduction to a recent article Christian? Don’t let it show! from VoxPoint (the national magazine of Family Voice Australia)

Mrs Shirley Chaplin has worked as a nurse at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Hospital for over 30 years. During this time she has worn a cross on a chain around her neck, that was until 2009 when,

hospital authorities ordered her to remove the necklace, for “health and safety” reasons. When Mrs Chaplin objected, they demoted her to desk duties.

The reason for the removal was stated that confused patients may grab at the necklace. Other nursing staff wore necklaces but were not asked to remove them. It was suggested that she remove the chain and pin the cross inside her uniform. Shirley rejected this suggestion. 

For about 30 years I have worked in the NHS and nursed patients day and night and on no occasion has any cross caused me or anyone else any injury – and to my knowledge, no patient has ever complained about me wearing it.

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 –  Human Resources Director Lynn Lane

It seems that necklaces (in this case a Cross/Crucifix) are not dress code/uniform but hijabs are exempt. Two female Muslim doctors at the hospital are allowed to wear their hijabs, even though head scarfs are not part of the uniform.  The authorities said that,

unlike crosses for Christians, hijabs are mandatory for Muslim women….the cross was not a mandatory requirement of her faith, unlike Moslem headscarves, which “therefore could be exempted.”

Mrs Chaplin complained to the UK Employment tribunal, but lost her case.

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, said

UK courts now appear reluctant to protect the right of Christians to display the cross, “the most important symbol of the Christian faith.”

 Shirley said that the result of the tribunal,

is a very bad day for Christianity… every Christian at work will now be afraid to mention their beliefs…I view this as a clear discrimination against Christians.

Is this a health & safety issue or a cover up for religious discrimination?

 See also Employment Tribunal For Nurse In Crucifix Row, It’s a very bad day for Christianity: Nurse’s verdict after tribunal rules she can’t wear crucifix at work, Tribunal hearing – Nurse Shirley Chaplin case, Tribunal finds no discrimination in case of crucifix nurse, Nurse tells tribunal removing crucifix would ‘violate faith’, Bishop of Blackburn raps ‘discrimination’ against Christians, and Christianity is under siege.

See my recent blogs on Burqas and religious freedom, The Burqa: more than clothing, Belgium burqa ban is Bad, and Burqa ban in Australia?

Hence I pray:

God of Justice help us to speak out for justice as we should
and to stand up for our beliefs.
Suffering God strengthen us to pray for the suffering Church
and to care as we should.
Righteous God hear our cry for freedom of religious expression
and help us to appreciate freedom.
Though Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour
and in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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