Christians should be free to wear the cross, says Bishop
The former Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev Michael Nazir Ali has called on the European Court of Human Rights to defend the freedom of Christians to wear the cross at work, and to overturn the increasing restrictions on religious liberties in the UK.
In a written submission to the Strasbourg Court, Bishop Nazir Ali has warned that the rights of Christians had been "vanquished" by UK judges and that Christians now "risk their employment" if they choose to wear the cross in public.
He urged the Court to give Article 9 (the right to freedom of conscience) its "full and intended" effect when hearing two landmark cases involving Christian employees who were penalised for wearing the symbol at work.
Bishop Nazir Ali said in the document: "We have reached the stage where Christians in the United Kingdom risk their employment if they wear a cross.
"However, the United Kingdom courts have permitted the wearing of a Sikh bangle, the Islamic headscarf and even a cornrow haircut.
"In case after case in the United Kingdom, the rights of Christians have been vanquished."
He added: "The cross is ubiquitous in Christian devotion from the earliest times.
"The sign of the cross is made by Christians not only during worship but before and after meals, at times of danger and also to give thanks.
"The cross is the most easily recognisable Christian symbol in architecture, church furnishing and the dress of the clergy.
"Lay people are encouraged to wear a cross or a crucifix to affirm their desire to follow in the way of Christ, as he taught us to do.
"They wear it also to declare their faith and to witness to others.
"I am aware that many Christians wear the cross and would be distressed to be required to remove it.
"Further, to hide the cross, in circumstances where the cross is an expression of faith, would be extremely distressing to the adherent as it would amount to asserting that the cross and by implication the Lord Jesus Christ is something to be ashamed of and faith in him something to be hidden."
At a recent Easter homily in Edinburgh, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, expressed concerns that the right to wear a "simple and discreet" cross was increasingly under threat in the UK, urging Christians to "proudly" wear the symbol of the cross "each and every day of their lives."
"I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters," he said.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has also made direct submissions to the European Court with regards to the two cross cases, arguing that Christians were being increasingly "vilified" and "driven underground" by the tendency of UK courts to apply "equality law to discriminate against Christians."
He said that the failure of Judges to protect the religious freedom of Christians "case after case" demonstrated a "crude" misunderstanding of the faith which has led to believers being treated as "bigots".
Right to wear the cross
The issue of wearing a cross in public has become highly contentious.
Judges in the UK have refused to uphold the religious liberties of two Christians who faced discrimination for wearing the symbol during working hours - cases which are due to be heard before the European Court of Human Rights in September.
This includes Christian Legal Centre client Shirley Chaplin, who was forced from front line nursing after refusing to remove the cross she had worn for thirty years.
The Government has refused to back the two cases in their submissions to the European Court, stating that the right to religious freedom was guaranteed because Christians had the right to resign from their jobs.
Not Ashamed of the Cross
Christian Concern has launched the ‘Not Ashamed of the Cross’ campaign, asking the Prime Minister to align the Government’s submission with his public support of Christian values at a recent Easter event, at which he told a gathering of senior church leaders that the nation needed Christian values and also that he supported a "fight back" against rising secularism.