Overwhelming support as case of BA employee banned from wearing cross is heard in Court of Appeal

19 January 2010

Today Liberty will represent Nadia Eweida, the Christian BA check-in employee banned from wearing a small cross on a chain, as her case is heard in the Court of Appeal. A Liberty poll of UK Christians, released today, shows overwhelming support not just for Ms Eweida’s case but also for the freedom of all faiths to manifest their religion.

The Liberty poll also reveals that 86% of those polled disagree with BA’s decision to ask Ms Eweida to cover up her cross and 80% agree that this case sets a dangerous precedent in discriminating on the basis of religion.

Liberty’s ComRes polling also shows support from the Christian community for all faiths to be free from discrimination:
 

- 96% agree that everybody should have freedom of thought, conscience and religion as long as they do not harm other people
 
- 85% agree that it doesn’t matter what religion people are, the law should protect their right to wear symbols of their faith as long as they do not harm other people

- However, only 5% of those polled remember ever receiving or seeing any information from the Government explaining how the Human Rights Act protects religious beliefs

The Court of Appeal will consider the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s startling judgment of November 2008, which found that banning Ms Eweida from wearing a cross was not discriminatory because Christians ‘generally’ do not consider wearing a cross as a requirement of their religion

Although the airline changed its uniform policy to allow all religious symbols, including crosses, to be worn openly it would not admit that the original policy was unlawful and refused to pay Ms Eweida for the three months she was prevented from working.

Corinna Ferguson, Legal Officer for Liberty, said:

“This woman's cross was as important to her as a turban or hijab to other people in our country. British Airways sensibly changed the policy but unfortunately didn't concede the case which has left a dangerous precedent in the case law which we intend to overturn.

All that we are seeking for everyone in Britain is freedom of thought, conscience and religion and equal treatment under the law.”

Dr Vincent Cable MP said:
“I have supported Nadia since the beginning of her dispute to defend the simple, basic right to wear an unobtrusive symbol of her belief. British Airways have behaved badly, in a bullying manner and are putting at risk a fundamental British liberty.”

Rt Hon David Davis MP said:

“What could be more British than freedom of thought, conscience and religion? This woman’s small cross wasn’t hurting anyone. That our national airline should be engaging expensive lawyers to defend discrimination is a positive embarrassment to the flag.”

Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP said:

“The principle at stake here is too important to ignore; people of all faiths, and those with none, must be free to express their beliefs, in so far as they are not hurting others or infringing their rights.”

BA has instructed US law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP to act for them. Ms Eweida, who is not eligible for legal aid, is represented by Liberty’s in-house lawyers. Liberty will argue that employers should only interfere with personal expressions of religion or belief where it is necessary and proportionate, for example to protect the rights of others.

In addition to religious leaders, Ms Eweida has had support from politicians of all parties and the Transport and General Workers Union.

Contact: Mairi Clare Rodgers on 020 7378 3656 or 07973831128

Notes to Editors

1. The ComRes poll was conducted in December 2009. To view the findings in full, contact mairiclareR@liberty-human-rights.org.uk  ComRes interviewed 535 people by telephone. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables available at www.comres.co.uk
 
2. In October 2006 BA check-in worker Nadia Eweida, a committed Christian, was suspended for refusing to remove a small cross worn around her neck. BA subsequently changed the uniform policy to allow religious symbols to be worn openly. The employment appeal tribunal last year found no discrimination - this ruling has set a dangerous precedent for freedom of conscience in the workplace.
 
3. Many public and political figures were critical of British Airways preventing Ms Eweida from wearing her cross including; Tony Blair, Vince Cable MP, Anne Widdecombe MP, Jack Straw MP, Tim Farron MP, Ken Livingstone, Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Kiran McCaffey, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and Dr Indarjiit Singh, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.