Category Archives: equality

BA worker ‘speechless’ after losing religious discrimination case

Nadia Eweida sued the airline for religious discrimination after alleging she was barred from wearing a Christian symbol

A British Airways worker suspended for wearing a Christian cross said she was “very disappointed” at losing her claim for religious discrimination.

Nadia Eweida, from Twickenham, southwest London, took her case to an employment tribunal after complaining that a manager banned her from wearing a small cross around her neck.

“I’m very disappointed. I’m speechless really because I went to the tribunal to seek justice,” she said after learning about the tribunal’s decision yesterday.

“But the judge has given way for BA to have a victory on imposing their will on all their staff.”
Miss Eweida, 56, said that she turned down £8,500 from BA to settle out of court.

She said:

“I cannot be gagged about my faith.”

She vowed to proceed with her case if her solicitor agreed.

“It’s not over until God says it’s over,” she said.

The row erupted, according to Miss Eweida, after a diversity awareness meeting in October 2006 when a manager told her to remove it or hide her cross from sight.

When she refused, she was put on unpaid leave from her post at Heathrow Airport.

The company eventually changed its uniform policy and Miss Eweida returned to work in February last year. She continues to be employed by the airline. She has been on rest days this week, but will return to work tomorrow wearing her cross.

Miss Eweida said the root of her complaint was that the airline had “rules for one minority group but not the other”. She said that while Muslims and Sikhs were allowed to wear hijabs and religious Kara bangles respectively, she, as a Christian, was asked to remove her religious jewellery.“It is a form of discrimination against Christians,” she said.

She said she would have to consider whether to stay at the company. BA said it was pleased with the tribunal’s decision. A spokesman said: “We have always maintained that our uniform policy did not discriminate against Christians and we are pleased that the tribunal’s decision supports our position.

“Our current policy allows symbols of faith to be worn openly and has been developed with multi-faith groups and our staff. “Nadia Eweida has worked for us for eight years and continues to be a valued member of our staff.”

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She was portrayed in the press as a victim of cruel religious discrimination – a poor persecuted Christian who had been “banned” by British Airways from wearing a simple cross at work. And all this while her Muslim and Sikh colleagues were parading about in hijabs and turbans.

The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Tony Blair came out in her defence. The Daily Mail took up the cudgels on her behalf. One hundred MPs spoke out in her favour. Bishops demanded a boycott of BA. Evangelical Christians went into paroxysms of righteous fury. At last – here was proof that they were innocent victims of Christianophobia – as practised by our very own national airline.

An open and shut case, you might think. Nadia Eweida was a Christian martyr, pure and simple.

But hang on a moment. The employment tribunal, to which she complained, has just published its judgment, and it tells a rather different story. Not only did it kick out all her claims of religious discrimination and harassment, it also criticised her for her intransigence, saying that she:

“… generally lacked empathy for the perspective of others … her own overwhelming commitment to her faith led her at times to be both naive and uncompromising in her dealings with those who did not share her faith.”

One example of this was her insistence that she must never be required to work on Christmas Day, even though she had signed a contract that made it clear that she, like her colleagues, would be working in an operation that functions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and therefore required shift working and bank holiday working, too.

In order to be fair to everybody, BA used a union-approved ballot system to ensure that those who worked on Christmas Day were fairly and objectively chosen. If their name came up, they were at liberty to negotiate with their colleagues to change shifts and days on a like-for-like basis. But not Nadia. She insisted that, because she was a Christian, she must not be required to work on Christmas Day – or Sunday, come to that.

The tribunal commented:

“[Eweida’s] insistence on privilege for Christmas Day is perhaps the most striking example in the case of her insensitivity towards colleagues, her lack of empathy for those without religious focus in their lives, and her incomprehension of the conflicting demands which professional management seeks to address and resolve on a near-daily basis.”

Eweida was originally suspended from work as a BA check-in clerk when she refused to wear a cross on a necklace underneath her uniform rather than on top of it. This breached stated uniform policy, which stated that no one was allowed to wear visible adornments around their neck.

But Eweida and her Christian activist backers managed to foment such a backlash that BA was forced into changing the policy. Now she can wear her cross visibly, and the airline offered her £8,500 compensation and a return to her job, with her point successfully made.

But no – she decided to continue pursuing the airline at the industrial tribunal. She was funded in her action by a rightwing religious law firm in Arizona called the Alliance Defence Fund, whose affiliated lawyer was Paul Diamond, a familiar figure in court cases demanding religious privilege.

The tribunal – unlike the Daily Mail – was required to look at all the evidence, and not consider only Eweida’s account of events. And having done so, it kicked the case out on all counts, saying that Eweida did not suffer any discrimination.

The tribunal concluded:

“The complaint of direct discrimination fails because we find that the claimant did not, on grounds of religion or belief, suffer less favourable treatment than a comparator in identical circumstances.”

The tribunal also heard how Eweida’s attitude and behaviour towards colleagues had prompted a number of complaints objecting to her: “Either giving them religious materials unsolicited, or speaking to colleagues in a judgmental or censorious manner which reflected her beliefs; one striking example,” said the judgment, “was a report from a gay man that the claimant had told him that it was not too late to be redeemed.”

Indeed, the proselytising motivation of her desire to wear the cross over her uniform instead of underneath it was underlined when she said: “It is important to wear it to express my faith so that other people will know that Jesus loves them.”

The details of this case make it clear that this is a woman who is wearing religious blinkers. In several instances she brought grievances and complaints against BA that had no basis in fact. She was convinced that BA was anti-Christian, and nothing would dissuade her from that opinion, despite the company jumping through hoops trying to accommodate the many and varied religious demands being placed on it. Indeed, there is a BA Christian Fellowship group that did not support Eweida’s fight, and confirmed that BA was already “making available facilities, time, work spaces, intranet use and supporting Christian charitable activities throughout the world” – but strangely we haven’t heard about them in the newspaper reports.

The tribunal notes that on the original claim form, Eweida states “I have not been permitted to wear my Christian cross; whilst other faiths (Sikhs, Hindu, Muslims) are permitted to manifest their faith in very obvious fashion. Secular individuals can show private affiliations.” The tribunal found the first and last assertions to be untrue. But Eweida would not be persuaded.

Her numerous demands for special treatment because of her religion showed a complete indifference to the effect it would have on the lives of others. Indeed, in one instance she made an accusation against the Christian Fellowship group that turned out to be completely fallacious, and the tribunal felt compelled to say: “We find it demonstrates to a degree the extent to which the claimant [Eweida] misinterpreted events, as well as her readiness to make a serious accusation without thought of the implications.”

Now we read that there is another case in the pipeline for British Airways. An orthodox Jewish man is bringing a case of religious discrimination because he is required to work on Saturday, the Jewish Shabat.

And a demonstration by Sikhs has just taken place outside the Welsh assembly, demanding that a schoolgirl be permitted to breach the school’s uniform policy by wearing a ceremonial bangle, the kara.

As Jonathan Bartley, of the religious thinktank Ekklesia said of the Eweida case:

“Like many of the other claims of discrimination being made by Christians, this has turned out to be false. People should be aware that behind many such cases there are groups whose interests are served by stirring up feelings of discrimination of marginalisation amongst Christians. What can appear to be a case of discrimination at first glance is often nothing of the sort. It is often more about Christians attempting to gain special privileges and exemptions.”

The National Secular Society has demanded that employers should be permitted to declare their workplaces secular spaces if they want to, without penalty. Attempts by employers to accommodate everyone have turned many workplaces into religious battlegrounds. It should now be OK to say: “Leave your religion at the door, please. And if you won’t and your religion doesn’t permit you to work in the way that this jobs demands you do, then please find another job that will.”

Terry Sanderson


Census question on religion as “flawed” and discriminatory

During a debate in the House of Lords, speeches criticising the Census question on religion as flawed and contributing to discrimination against non-religious people. Lord Harrison and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston both contributed to the debate on public confidence in government statistics, raising a number of concerns about the question from a humanist perspective.

Lord Harrison, a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said he was ‘Appalled to learn that the ONS will keep the flawed 2001 question – “What is your religion?” – in the forthcoming 2011 census’. He argued that ‘This is a leading question…it not only overrepresents the religious in our country, but underrepresents the non-religious. It also fails because it confuses and conflates the concepts of belief and ethnicity…It is, indeed, arguably discriminatory under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2006.’

Lord Harrison suggested some improvements that could be made to improve the question but, failing significant changes, that the ‘question should be eliminated, especially in this flawed form.’

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, stated that ‘It undermines our confidence in the Office for National Statistics when [the Census] contradicts other authoritative surveys to declare that only 15 per cent of British people are non-religious’, and provided examples including the ‘ONS’s own Social Trends survey, which reported about the same proportion of people saying that they belonged to no religion as saying that they belonged to a Christian denomination’ and the British Social Attitudes Survey, which ‘reported that 69 per cent of people either did not claim membership of a religion or said that they never attended a religious service.’

Lord Macdonald highlighted that the question is really aimed to measure ethnicity and not religion: ‘The ONS wants to identify by stealth as many members as it can of two ethnic groups protected under race legislation, by asking its leading question on religion, which, it claims, “provides a reasonable proxy for Sikh and Jewish ethnic groups”.’

However, Lord Macdonald made clear that this was highly problematic, saying, ‘It matters because inaccurate data can lead to the misallocation of resources and public funds. It matters because misleading statistics can be used to argue the religious case for the expansion of faith schools, when some of the more divisive institutions discriminate against non-religious people in their staffing and admissions policy. It matters because more accurate statistics would offer reassurance to those who fear that their sceptical, tolerant, vaguely agnostic Britain is being defined and divided increasingly by religion. It matters because accurate statistics might have particular importance for the Equality Bill currently before Parliament, which would mandate public authorities to treat non-religious citizens equally and with the same respect as religious people.’

The Minister stated that he would respond to all questions asked in the debate.

The BHA has been campaigning to raise awareness of the wholly inaccurate measurement of the religiosity of the population by the Census question on religion and its very damaging effects, and for a change in the question.

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips at on 020 7079 3585

Read more about our campaign on the Census 2011 question on religion

Read the full debate on public confidence in government statistics

The British Humanist Association represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.


Sunday Telegraph gets it all wrong

Camp Quest would like to help correct a number of statements made in a recent article titled “Atheists target UK schools” by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent at the Sunday Telegraph, that misrepresented aims and objectives of Camp Quest. It should be noted that Mr Jonathan Wynne-Jones had not attempted to contact Camp Quest at anytime for clarification before writing the article.(1)

The article also misrepresented the aims of the The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies while implying a level of co-operation between our two organisations. Corrections by the AHS can be found on their website.(2)

The article, stored in the education rather than religion section of the site includes the statement by Jonathan Wynne-Jones;

It will coincide with the first atheist summer camp for children that will teach that religious belief and doctrines can prevent ethical and moral behaviour.

Camp Quest finds this statement offensive, and has no basis in reality. Camp Quest is often labelled anti-christian/muslim/religious for the affirmation that it is OK not to believe in a idea such as a god/dess(es). The camp is based on humanist principles and seeks to promote tolerance through the understanding that there are many ideas in the world.

In a further development to strengthen the role of atheism among the younger generation, the first summer camp for irreligious children or the children of nontheistic parents is being held this summer.

Organisers say that Camp Quest, which originated in America, offers “a godless alternative to traditional religious summer camps, such as vacation Bible schools”

Camp Quest is open to all children, from families that hold any belief.  Camp Quest’s aim is to get campers thinking and asking themselves questions, while equiping them with the tools to go off and come to their own conclusions about a wide range of topics.

There is no ‘atheist dogma’ or agenda, but an atmosphere of inquiry is created and the campers are encouraged to discuss ideas of interest to them.

The additional statement regarding the origins of Camp Quest is true. With numerous summer camps in the US having a religious element, it was proposed that a secular summer camp could provide a welcome alternative.

The sensational writing style of Mr Jonathan Wynne-Jones to misrepresent and distort to create a ‘news’ article have drawn protest from the Muslim community(3) and criticism from the Tories, while Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague called for more moderate language. An article titled ‘Christians ask if force is needed to protect their religious values‘ has been discribed by Dr. R. David Muir, Public Policy Director at the Evangelical Alliance (4)

as a case-study in bad journalism. It is the sort of piece that lecturers would give to their first year ‘A’ Level students to identify the sensational, the specious, and the not-too-subtle exercise in dissimulation.

Notes to Editors

1. Telegraph: “Atheists target UK schools” – Misrepresents Camp Quest

2. The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies www.ahsstudents.org.uk

3. Islamist Watch – Bishop warns of no-go zones for non-Muslims

4. Evangelical Alliance responds to Sunday Telegraph’s poor journalism

Camp Quest was first held in 1996 and until 2002 was operated by the Free Inquiry Group, Inc. (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The idea for the project originated with Edwin Kagin and he and his wife Helen served as Camp Directors for the first ten years of the original Camp Quest, retiring at the end of the 2005 camp session. Six Camp Quest summer camps currently offer programs within the US and Camp Quest UK is the first camp outside North America.


Dutch Christian schools can refuse gay teachers

Christian schools are within their rights to refuse to employ gay teachers if homosexuality breaks school principles, the Nederlands Dagblad reports on Tuesday, quoting the government’s Council of State advisory body.

The paper says that confidential recommendations from council state that while anti-discrimination measures remain paramount, religious and other belief-based institutions ‘can impose specific demands under strict conditions’.

These conditions have to be ‘desirable, legitimate and just’ and show ‘good faith and loyalty’ to the religious principles, the council says.

The Netherlands has dozens of fundamentalist Christian schools which oppose homosexuality on Biblical principles. While funded by the government, they are run independently. Such schools may not discriminate but are free under European rules to determine their own ‘professional demands’ for teachers, the paper says.

Last month a strict Protestant primary school in Gelderland suspended a teacher because he was gay and lived with another man. That case is being taken to the equal opportunities commission.


Militant Atheist cleaners could sue Christian care homes over crucifixes

Church care homes could be forced to remove crucifixes from their walls in case they offend “atheist cleaners” under the new Equality Bill, Catholic bishops have warned.

The way the bill is written means non-Christians could sue for harassment if church authorities do not remove religious imagery, according to Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

He said the bill, currently being examined by Parliament’s Equality Bill Committee, could have a “chilling effect” on religious expression.

Under the terms of the bill, harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct with the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment”.

Bishops are concerned that religious authorities could be left in an impossible legal position, because under the bill it would be up to the employer to prove that displaying such an image did not amount to harassment or an employee.

In a written statement to the committee, Mgr Summersgill said: “A cleaner may be an atheist or of very different religious beliefs. Nonetheless if a cleaner found the crucifixes offensive there would be no defence in law against a charge of harassment.”

He added: “If this bill is serious about equality, everything possible must be done to avoid it having a chilling effect on religious expression and practice.”

The bishops are also worried that they Equality Bill will establish what they believe would amount to a “hierarchy of rights”, with the rights of homosexuals overruling those of religious expression.