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'PM should protect cross-wearing' says Exeter nurse Shirley Chaplin

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: January 16, 2013

By Emma McFarnon

Shirley Chaplin

Shirley Chaplin has urged David Cameron to follow up his pledge to change the law to protect the wearing of the cross

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An Exeter nurse who saw her religious discrimination claim rejected by the human rights court has called on the Prime Minister to change the law to protect the wearing of the cross.

Shirley Chaplin yesterday lost her discrimination case which she took to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after being told she could no longer wear a cross at work.

Ms Chaplin, who worked for more than 30 years on the wards at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, was told in 2009 the necklace for the cross breached health and safety guidelines.

Ms Chaplin was one of four Christians who claimed they lost their jobs as a result of discrimination against their beliefs.

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Only one of the cases, brought by a British Airways employee prevented from wearing a cross, was successful.

The Court ruled BA had not struck a fair balance between Nadia Eweida’s religious beliefs and the company's wish to "project a certain corporate image". However, judges said the decision taken by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital in relation to Ms Chaplin’s case was necessary to protect the health and safety of nurses and patients.

Ms Chaplin has called for Prime Minister David Cameron to follow through with his pledge to change the law to protect the wearing of the cross. Mr Cameron said during Prime Minister’s Questions in June 2012: "I fully support the right of people to wear religious symbols at work; I think it is a vital religious freedom.

“If it turns out that the law has the intention as has come out in this case, we will change the law and make it clear that people can wear religious emblems at work.”

Nevertheless, the UK government contested all four cases at a hearing in September 2012.

Ms Chaplin said: “I’m just an ordinary person. A nurse. I loved my job and can’t believe that the UK government said to the European Court that the cross is not a Christian symbol.

“I am pleased that the court recognises the wearing of my cross is a manifestation of my Christian faith, and that the Prime Minister supports the freedom to wear the cross. But I don’t understand why the Government fought against me.

“If the Prime Minister really believes in the freedom to wear the cross he now needs to act swiftly to protect that freedom.

“I’m motivated to do my job because of my Christian faith. Being forced to choose between my job and my faith is not something anyone should have to face.

“The fact the Government said to the European Court that my religious freedom was protected because I was free to resign and find another job is laughable.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Ms Chaplin in her case, said: “We applaud the court’s recognition that the wearing of a cross is a valid expression of the Christian faith, and are pleased for Nadia in her victory.

“However, the judgment in Shirley’s case is based on an incorrect understanding of the health and safety arguments.

“There are many more cases which are likely to be brought by Christians seeking the courts to make a ruling on what should be a very simple and straightforward matter.

“We therefore call upon the Prime Minister to follow through on his comments about the cross, and clarify the law once and for all.”

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