Wearing ‘Faith symbols’ at work. ECHR decision; has anything changed?

There has been a lot of attention given to the decision in the case of Eweida & Ors v The United Kingdom at the European Court of Human Rights.

Incidentally, note that this is NOT the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and therefore the weight which will be attached to the judgement may vary from country to country.

This appeared to raise issues related to the rights of Christians to wear visible symbols of their faith and of course was being commented on in the same context as the Sikh turban and the hijab and various Muslim women’s coverings.

But what has changed? Differing views in the three articles below from the Irish TImes, The Independent of London and the BBC.

Go to the source! You can access the press statement from the EHCR here and read the full judgement of the Court  here 

Some of the commentary is of interest.

The Irish Times said:

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights will mean private companies will have to reconsider how they treat their employees’ rights to express their religious beliefs in the workplace.

You can read the full Irish Times article here

But this is how it was seen by the English newspaper The Independent

In this piece the author observes that the case is actually a defeat for the Christian lobby. We’ll see about that but it is a fairly eclectic aspect of employment law rights which may present very rarely in most workplaces. But, in an increasingly diverse workplace there are lessons here for all.

Incidentally, British Airways, which employed Ms Eweida changed its dress code in 2007 shortly after the dispute began to permit the wearing of the crucifix; a fact which carried some weight with the court which saw this as evidence that the ban in the dress code had not been a ‘proportionate requirement’ to avoid negative impact on the airline’s image.

Meanwhile the BBC reported that ‘the court said BA had not struck a fair balance between Ms Eweida’s religious beliefs and the company’s wish to “project a certain corporate image”. You can read that report here

The ‘secularists’ on one hand, and on the other those who feel the right, (or in some cases obligation) to display the symbols of their faith in public will continue to argue this one. Interestingly, three other cases before the EHCR did not succeed and Ms Eweida got compensation of only €2,000 plus her costs of €30,000.

In one of those cases, that of one Ms Chaplin, a nurse working with the elderly, the reason for asking her to remove her cross, namely the protection of health and safety on a hospital ward was held to be inherently of much greater importance.  The Court  concluded that requiring Ms Chaplin to remove her cross had not been disproportionate and that the interference with her freedom to manifest her religion had been necessary in a democratic society.

This provides some insight into the test of ‘proportionality’ used by the court (and the CJEU) in rights based cases.

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