Category Archives: politics

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


Singapore’s future is secular

Singapore’s prime minister recently reaffirmed the city-state’s secularism in his National Day speech. Lee Hsien Loong said that “aggressive preaching” by religious groups and evangelising threaten the Singapore’s stability.

Mr Lee said: “The most visceral and dangerous fault line (in Singapore) is race and religion. Christians can’t expect this to be a Christian society. Muslims can’t expect this to be a Muslim society, ditto with the Buddhists, the Hindus and the other groups.” He reminded citizens that Singapore’s authority and laws “don’t come from a sacred book” and that the Government must remain steadfastly secular.

He commented that the recent upsurge in religious fervour around the world was dangerous – and cited America as a country that claims to be secular but was heavily under the influence of religion. In the most recent census in 2000, 43 percent of Singaporeans said they were Buddhist, 15 percent Muslim, 15 percent Christian, 8.5 percent Taoist and 4 percent Hindu.


Man and children held under terror law

Two police officers are under investigation after using anti-terror stop-and-search powers against a man and two young children in a south London street.

The 43-year-old man had his mobile phones, USB sticks and a CD seized by the officers, who were in plain clothes, and was asked to stand in front of a CCTV camera in order to have his photograph taken. The undercover Metropolitan police officers also took the man’s photograph with their own camera and searched the two children he was walking with – his 11-year-old daughter and his neighbour’s daughter, aged six.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said today it would “manage” the investigation into the incident in July, meaning that an independent investigator will control the inquiry conducted by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards.

It is unusual for the IPCC to manage an investigation into an incident of this kind, and the decision comes amid mounting concern over police use of stop-and-search and surveillance powers. The commission has received dozens of complaints relating to the use of stop-and-search powers, but the nature of this complaint is understood to have concerned investigators.

In a statement today, the IPCC said: “The complainant states that, when he asked under what legislation his property was being seized, he was told it was under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He also complained that he was given no information as to when he could retrieve his goods or who to contact in order to do so, and that there was no communication from police despite assurances that he would be told when he could collect his things.”

The Met’s complaints bureau is known to have received a number of complaints relating to alleged misuse of anti-terror powers. Two months ago, Gemma Atkinson, 27, a film-maker from London, said she would challenge the Met at the high court after she claimed she was handcuffed, detained and threatened with arrest for filming officers on her mobile phone.

Lawyers for Atkinson said the Met’s complaints bureau has been slow to respond to their complaints. Atkinson was detained at Aldgate underground station one month after Section 58(a) – a controversial amendment to the Terrorism Act – came into force, making it illegal to photograph a police officer if the images are considered “likely to be useful” to a terrorist.

Speaking about the case of the 43-year-old man, the IPCC commissioner, Mike Franklin, who leads on the issue of stop and search, said: “The use of section 44 stop-and-search powers is a very sensitive issue and it is right that complaints of this nature are taken very seriously. It is particularly worrying that two young children were allegedly searched in this way. This investigation will look at whether the use of these powers in this case was lawful, reasonable and correctly carried out.”


I am a photographer, not a terrorist!

I have heard the stories of photographers being challenged by security guards and the police for simple shots of shopping centres or landscapes, but you never think it will every be you. . .

photo-not-terror-header

“Photography is under attack. Across the country it that seems anyone with a camera is being targeted as a potential terrorist, whether amateur or professional, whether landscape, architectural or street photographer.Not only is it corrosive of press freedom but creation of the collective visual history of our country is extinguished by anti-terrorist legislation designed to protect the heritage it prevents us recording.This campaign is for everyone who values visual imagery, not just photographers.

We must work together now to stop this before photography becomes a part of history rather than a way of recording it.” –   photographernotaterrorist.org

I work on a normal business site but that has the likes of QinetiQ and BAE Systems. I leave one evening and start the drive home. A police car is suddenly behind me with lights on so I move over to let them past and am surprised when they remain behind me, so a quick check of car tax and insurance dates flash through my mind. I also put aside the desire to floor it and appear on ‘Cops with cameras’ and use the excuse “I was only trying to get to a good spot to stop as quickly as possible”. I stop and am out of the car quicker than pc1 and pc2 who quickly start questioning my business with at XXXXXX and the business park. As my first brush with the law on the ‘wrong’ side, I am surprised that what should be a simple question is layered with the tone that removes the presumption of innocence.

Despite explaining, answering questions and showing ID and an access card, I am told I have to return to my work to answer more questions. A short ride in the back of the police car and I’m at reception and let out after a pc1 has had a brief  chat with site security. I get out to a torrent of questions from the head of site ‘security’ about taking photos of the building and cctv cameras. Then follows a big to and through where I have no idea what they’re talking about until they inform me they spotted me taking pictures from last month. It all falls into place that I had brought in my good camera to take some good pics of my work and in the car park had taken some quick test shots and the cctv cameras (if they capture me, why can’t I capture them?). All the businesses in the area had been placed on alert and to look out for me driving around ‘surveying’ their security. It turns out that they are all expecting an eco-protest soon as another building had been subject to a roof sit in protest for a few weeks at the begining of the year.

I have a strange feeling this wasn’t a one off incidence and as a photographer I can look forward to more questions and police contact for ‘terrorist actions’


DNA fingerprinting 25 years old (but DNA databases are wrong)

The scientist behind DNA fingerprinting has called for a change to the law governing DNA databases on the 25th anniversary of his discovery.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys uncovered the process by chance in his laboratory at Leicester University. The technique has since been used to solve crimes and identity cases. But it has also led to controversy over profiles kept on the national DNA database. “Innocent people do not belong on that database,” he said. The scientist stumbled across the groundbreaking development on 10 September, 1984. He realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.

‘Blue skies research’ It led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, which has been used to solve a range of crimes. Last year, 17,614 offences were solved using a DNA match, including 83 killings and 184 rapes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration, conservation and cloning.

In an interview to mark the anniversary of his discovery, Professor Jeffreys spoke of the importance of allowing academics freedom to research. Professor Jeffreys He said academics should be able to pursue “unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven” research. “Blue skies” research, which led to discoveries such as his own, was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution,” he said, warning: “You lose that at your peril.”

He renewed his calls for the government to change the law governing the UK’s DNA databases – particularly the practice in England and Wales of keeping the DNA profiles of thousands of people who have neither been charged nor convicted. There are now more than five million profiles on the national DNA database, a rise of 40% in two years. He told the BBC: “My view is very, very simple, has been right from the outset. “Innocent people do not belong on that database. Branding them as future criminals is not proportionate response in the fight against crime. “And I’ve met a fair number of these people and some of these people are very, very upset and are distressed by the fact that their DNA is on that database. They cannot get it off and they feel as if they’re branded as criminals.


Wandsworth Council endorses religious discrimination in education

By Community Correspondent Stephen Evans

The new Equality Bill may be working its way through Parliament, but Wandsworth Council is still wholeheartedly endorsing religious discrimination and segregation in education.

A recent edition of Brightside, the magazine of Wandsworth Council, proudly announced that a “New Catholic school comes a step closer”. The Council has announced that the Saint John Bosco school will be the only completely new school to be built in the borough as part of the government-funded ‘Building Schools for the Future’ project.

Unfortunately, for the non-Catholics amongst us, this will be yet another religious school in Wandsworth that discriminates against the children of non-religious parents and those of the ‘wrong’ faith.

Just take a look at some of the admissions criteria for Wandsworth’s new state school:

• Baptised Catholic students whose parent(s) and themselves are active committed Roman Catholics.

• Baptised Catholic students who are active committed Roman Catholics.

• Baptised Catholic students who are currently attending a Roman Catholic school.

• Baptised Catholic students for whom there is evidence that the Church (e.g. parent(s), priest, parish worker or godparent) is actively and prayerfully working for their Roman Catholic upbringing.

• Christians who are active in their churches which are in membership of Churches Together in England.

• Other students, subject to their numbers and/or attitudes not endangering the Catholic ethos of the school.

There’s a further warning on the Wandsworth Council website that the Governors will “request proof of baptism and evidence of practice from the relevant Parish Priest or Minister.

How on earth can such backward and antiquated discrimination against the non-religious be allowed in modern Britain?

The National Secular Society has consistently campaigned against faith schools, arguing that they are unjust, discriminatory and detrimental to community cohesion. Many experts seem to agree.

For example, research from London South Bank University demonstrates that the only way to achieve full integration in our communities is for all children to be educated together from primary stage. These findings are backed up by a new study carried out by Psychologists at the University of Ulster on the effects of integrated and segregated schooling in Northern Ireland. They found that sectarianism could be defused if more Catholic and Protestant children were sent to mixed-religion schools. Further recent research by the LSE and the Institute of Education demonstrates that religious schools not only fail to improve standards, but also create ‘social sorting’ of children along lines of class, ability and religion.

By endorsing faith schools, Wandsworth is colluding with religious organisations in segregating children by their parent’s faith – and often as an indirect result, by their race. Many areas of Wandsworth, like most other London boroughs, while being very multicultural remains heavily segregated. We desperately need less division in our communities, not more.

Faith schools are notorious for ‘cherry-picking’ the most promising children from the most affluent families, resulting in a version of ‘private schooling on the rates’. The effect is to deprive community schools of such pupils, making their already-difficult task nearly impossible. Religious schools may well be popular with parents lucky enough to get their children into them, but less so with the population as a whole who just want good schools, not religious schools. An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper found two thirds of the population said there should be no state funded faith schools at all.

So why is the Labour Government, and Tory opposition for that matter, so intent on handing over the education of children to religious organisations?

I put that question in a letter to local MP Sadiq Khan, but have yet to receive a response. Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, the honourable member for Tooting is a well known advocate of mixing religion and politics and was the former Chairman of Tooting’s Gatton Primary, a state funded Muslim faith school which, in its own words, aims to: “inculcate in pupils the character and religion to live as a true Muslim.”

What makes the whole situation even more perverse is that there is little doubt that religious belief is in serious decline. Normal Sunday attendance at churches in England in 1980 exceeded 10% of the population. Today it’s around 6% and is projected by Christian Research to drop to 1.2% by 2050. The Government’s own latest Social Trends Survey revealed that 45.8% of British people now regard themselves as non-religious. In light of such findings how can anyone justify an expansion of religious schools?

The faith school system gives the religious, or those that pretend to be religious, greater choice while leaving the non-religious seriously disadvantaged. With state funded ‘minority’ faith schools on the increase, the situation is only going to get worse.


We must separate church and state

In England, our constitution is blighted by an ancient theocratic hangover. Time to sweep it away and bring England into the 21st century!

We’re not Iran, but our constitution does have a theocratic structure. I think this holds us back, impedes us, like an old invisible injury. Like a subtle poison in the blood, it quietly harms us. Most people seem unaware of it. Even Hazel Blears, who recently said that we are a secular democracy.

Yesterday a seminar was held at the UCL Constitution Unit to mark the launch of a book on the issue by Bob Morris. Church and State in 21st Century Britain is a meticulous analysis of the situation. No such study can be entirely neutral, but Morris seems to have no religious agenda; his aim is to point out that establishment is at odds with the principle of religious equality, making it “anomalous to the point of unsustainability”. He is wary of the term “disestablishment” but he does advocate the big reform – ending the monarch’s need to be Anglican.

In his presentation yesterday he said that reform would ideally come from the church itself. Otherwise it is likely to have reform thrust upon it, in a way it cannot control. So it is in its interest to lead the process. He acknowledged that here is little sign of this willingness as yet, but seemed hopeful that a fresh look at the issue might change that.

In the discussion that followed three Anglican representatives spoke. Each offered a slightly different flavour of the old conservative line: that it would be perilous to mess with our ancient constitution, that it might unleash an aggressive secularism. None admitted that there was a problem here that had to be faced.

These speakers confirmed my view that the Church of England looks very nice and liberal from a slight distance but at heart its philosophy is high Tory: tradition is sacred, those who want to tamper with it are dangerously shallow. I know of almost no Anglican who has said anything different, who admits Morris’ basic point that reform is necessary, so that we can have a constitution we can really affirm, and participate in, rather than an alienating relic from the imperial past. One exception is the Oxford theologian George Pattison, who has recently called for a more honest debate within the church (in an article in The Church Times). It is worth noting that Rowan Williams has failed to start the debate; he has allowed the reactionary position to become stronger – a piece of major political cowardice.

Might reform come from elsewhere? Of course the secularist lobbies advocate it, but in a sense this is unhelpful: it makes it seem an atheist cause, and so strenghtens the hand of the Anglicans, who scarify with the prospect of a Dawkinsish tyranny. Ideally it would come from a political movement that was also Christian, led by a new Cromwell figure.

Why is disestablishment not a mainstream liberal cause? It baffles me frankly. Why is it hardly ever mentioned by the columnists of this paper, except as a quick aside? To my mind it is the very essence of liberalism, that church and state should be separate. This is the English revolution that we have never quite had. It is the way to a new sort of political participation, a new sense that we are citizens of a modern state. Other aspects of constitutional change, and other liberal causes such as CCTV, DNA database and ID Cards are pathetically small-fry compared to this.