A FORMER Exeter nurse who was refused permission to wear a crucifix to work at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital is one of four British Christians who have launched a landmark case against religious discrimination at the European Court of Human Rights.
After a 30 year career on the wards at the RD&E, Shirley Chaplin was told she could no longer wear a crucifix around her neck as it breached health and safety guidelines.
In 2009 the Royal Devon & Exeter Foundation NHS Trust said her crucifix necklace breached the guidelines when worn with the new V-neck style tunics because of the "small risk" of patients grabbing it.
The trust said she could have put the cross under her uniform, but Mrs Chaplin felt that she was being asked to hide her faith in a way that was disrespectful.
She said she had worn the cross on the wards for 30 years without incident.
After she refused to put the cross under her uniform she was taken off frontline duties and given a desk job.
She has since taken early retirement.
In April 2010, an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled against her because it said Christians "generally did not consider wearing a cross as a requirement of their religion".
It also stated the RD&E had treated staff from ethnic minorities equally and that "its actions were not based on religion or belief but founded on the requirement to maintain health and safety".
The Royal Devon & Exeter Foundation NHS Trust previously said Mrs Chaplin was offered several alternative ways to wear her cross which she chose not to accept.
Speaking after the verdict Mrs Chaplin, said: "I was very upset. I felt that my faith was being questioned, and my nursing abilities were being questioned in some way."
The 56-year-old from Kenn has now taken the case to the Strasbourg court where judges will consider whether British laws are failing to protect the rights of Christians.
Mrs Chaplin is being represented by a barrister from the Christian Legal Centre.
She is one of four Christians who travelled to France for the start of the case on Tuesday, September 4, seeking changes that will make it easier for employers to protect freedom of religion in the workplace and argue that they have suffered discrimination as a result of their faith.
The cases involve Mrs Chaplin, British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida, relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane and registrar Lilian Ladele.
Ms Eweida, a Pentecostal Christian, was sent home from work in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross.
Mr McFarlane, a Bristol counsellor, was sacked for refusing to give relationship advice to gay people and Ms Ladele was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in north London.
Last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission backed them saying judges had been interpreting equality law "too narrowly" and this was making life difficult for employers.
And the cases have also received backing from the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
The four argue that the actions of their employers contravened articles nine and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibit religious discrimination and allow "freedom of thought, conscience and religion".