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‘Everyone is allowed to express beliefs openly’

‘...as long as they do not impinge on the human rights of others’

The Auxiliary Bishop, Mgr Charles Scicluna, has welcomed a European court decision that the rights of a British Airways worker to express her religion were violated when she was prevented from visibly wearing a cross.

It is perfectly legitimate to wear a discreet sign of one’s belief
- Auxiliary Bishop

Nadia Eweida, a practising Coptic Christian, was yesterday awarded €2,000 in compensation by European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after it ruled against the UK.

The court’s decision was based on the fact that a discreet cross would not have adversely affected BA’s public image. The ECHR declared that the UK authorities “failed sufficiently” to protect the applicant’s right to manifest her religion, in breach of article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Mgr Scicluna hailed the court’s ruling “as good news for people of all faiths” and not only for Christians.

“It is perfectly legitimate to wear a discreet sign of one’s belief and it should not offend other people – it’s a question of reciprocal tolerance,” he told The Times.

This long awaited decision by the European court confirmed “we can all be free to express our beliefs openly”.

After the ruling Ms Eweida, 60, told the British press she was “jumping with joy”, adding that it had “not been an easy ride”. She remains a BA employee.

Significantly, another three other Christian applicants who also claimed they had suffered religious discrimination lost their appeals. Shirley Chaplin, 57, a nurse, was stopped by her hospital from wearing necklaces with a cross. The Strasbourg judges considered the fact that hospital authorities had asked her to remove it for the protection of health and safety and to prevent infections spreading on a ward, which was “inherently more important”.

Gary McFarlane, 51, a marriage counsellor, was fired after saying he might have a conscientious objection to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples on account of his Christian faith. Registrar Lillian Ladele was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

Both their employers were bound not to discriminate against clients and therefore could not support staff who refused to work with homosexual couples, the court said.

Aditus Malta welcomed the four decisions, all contained in one judgment, on the ground that religious liberties were not allowed to trump other human rights.

“I would call it a victory because the court clarifies the boundaries of one’s human rights – that you are free to express your faith – as long as this does not impinge on the human rights of other persons,” said Aditus chairman Neil Falzon.

Romina Bartolo, director of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality, described this as a landmark judgment.

“This will give us more guidelines and pave the way for future cases,” she said.

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