Tuesday, April 13, 2010

B&Bs and crucifixes: Religious discrimination in the UK?

Shirley Chaplin, a Christian nurse in Britain, recently lost a discrimination claim after fighting a policy that barred her from wearing her crucifix to work.

As reported by Catholic News Agency,

Shirley Chaplin, 54, was told by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital last year that the crucifix she has worn for almost 40 years on the job without incident needed to be removed for “health and safety reasons.”

04_06_2010_ChaplinChaplin refused to comply and consequently took the hospital to an Employment Tribunal which ruled on Tuesday that Chaplin is not facing discrimination, as it asserted that all employees are treated equally. Under the Trust's current uniform policy, however, one can wear a hijab for religious reasons but not a cross.

The NHS Trust argued that the crucifix and and chain could cause Chaplin or others harm if a patient caught hold of it, yet the nurse's offer to have a metal clasp inserted on her chain so it could easily be removed in such situations was rejected. The Trust suggested that the nurse wear cross earrings or “hide” the crucifix by pinning it on the inside of her uniform pocket.

Chaplin has worn the crucifix, a gift, since her confirmation in 1971. She intends to appeal Tribunal's ruling.

“What the Trust doesn’t realize,” the nurse continued, “as it seeks to enforce its uniform policy in the way it has, is that it sends out a very clear message to Christians working in the Trust or considering working for the Trust in the future that they will have to ‘hide’ their faith. The message is clear: Christians whose faith motivates their vocation and care of patients do not appear to be welcome at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust.”

“When employers or Government start to censor the conscience and convictions in this way it is a first step towards the demise of democracy,” she charged.

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which helped represent Chaplin, said on Tuesday that “The extent to which the Trust is prepared to stop Mrs. Chaplin manifesting her religious beliefs is remarkable. We hope that the Employment Appeal Tribunal will reverse today’s decision and allow Mrs Chaplin to wear her Cross visibly, in the same way that doctors and nurses of other religions can manifest their religious beliefs.”

[For other reports on this case, click here, here, or here.]

Other Christians in the UK are facing similar legal challenges. Christian Bed & Breakfast owners, Mike and Susanne Wilkinson, found themselves in the centre of controversy after they denied a homosexual couple a double bed.

The Guardian reports:

A gay couple were turned away from a bed and breakfast by its Christian owner who claimed it was against her convictions for two men to share a bed. l_wilkinsons

Michael Black and John Morgan from Brampton, Cambridgeshire, booked a double room at the B&B in Cookham, Berkshire, for Friday night.

When they arrived, Susanne Wilkinson and her husband Francis refused to allow them to stay. The owner said later that she had turned them away because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples. Black and Morgan claimed they were treated like lepers as a result of their sexuality. They reported the matter to Thames Valley police and have given a statement to police. Under the Equality Act 2006 it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation.

"Mrs Wilkinson saw us both before we got out of the car and immediately acted in an unwelcoming, cold way, but my boyfriend and I were polite and friendly.

"She said if we'd told her in advance she would have told us not to come."

She apologised for turning them away and she returned their deposit and was in no way abusive, the couple said.

Black said: "We want to try to prevent other people from going there and suffering discrimination. Whatever her private views, that I can't change. Legally she can't discriminate.

An article from The Daily Mail added:

Mrs Wilkinson admitted she had made assumptions in expecting a man and a woman when she took a booking from a Mr Black. She said she invited the men in before explaining 'courteously' why she could not offer them the room.

She insisted she was not homophobic and would have offered two single rooms, but the guest house was fully booked.

Her husband Francis, a former City worker, said it was a question of living by their faith.

'We live according to our values and our Christian beliefs. We are not homophobic,' he said.

'Of course everybody has the freedom to live as they choose but we feel that in our own home we have every right to say no to something we don't agree with.'

Defending his wife, he said she would have explained the situation 'gently'. 'We are sorry for the distress that was caused to them,' he added.

Swiss-born Mrs Wilkinson, a former air hostess, said: 'People just take it for granted that their lifestyle will be accepted wherever they go.

'If they had gone to a hotel I think it would probably be different, but this is my house, we live here with our children - it's our home that's the difference.'

Mrs Wilkinson said: 'This is part of my faith and I don't want the Government to tell me what I can and cannot believe.'

[for more reports, click here, here or here.]

What do you think? Do you think Shirley Chaplin should be free to wear her crucifix to work? Should Mike and Susanne Wilkinson be allowed to deny a double bed to homosexual couples? Are these cases of religious discrimination? What do you think should be the relationship between one's personal beliefs and how one behaves in their profession?

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