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'I refused to hide my faith, now let the judges decide'

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: September 13, 2012

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FORMER city nurse Shirley Chaplin is still "devastated" over how her 30 year nursing career came to an end two years ago.

Now the 57-year-old from Kenn has spoken out about being one of four British Christians who took their landmark case against religious discrimination to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last week.

After a 30-year career on the wards at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, the ward sister 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.

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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.

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".

With support from Christian Concern charity, Shirley and three other Christians took the case to the Strasbourg court where judges will consider whether the British Government is failing to protect the rights of Christians.

"I was totally devastated," she said. "I couldn't understand what was going on. I'm still really hurt by it.

"I trained at the RD&E, I completed lots of courses so had lots of skills, trained others, was extremely committed to the job and worked hard all my life, so to find that 30 years of experience came down to one thing, and my career was written off, was devastating.

"I felt I was being singled out, because at first no one else was asked to remove their jewellery," she added.

"When I asked why, I was told they would be asked too."

When Shirley refused to take her cross off, after a series of meetings, she was removed from patient care duties and given an administrative role.

The RD&E Foundation NHS Trust previously said Mrs Chaplin was offered several alternative ways to wear her cross which she chose not to accept.

"It made no sense," she continued. "When I made checks I found out that there were no records of any incidents involving staff members being harmed because of the jewellery they were wearing. I had worn it for 30 years. There was no logic to it.

"The cross is about my commitment to my faith. What I found really humiliating was their solution which was for me to hide it. But this felt like I should be ashamed of my faith.

"There were other staff members who were permitted to wear items showing allegiance to their faith, such as Muslim doctors wearing headscarfs, so all I wanted to some equality."

Shirley said fellow Christian staff members chose to remove their crosses.

The administrative role Shirley was given was a six-month pilot role, so when it came to an end she decided to take early retirement.

In addition to Shirley's case the other cases involved 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.

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".

In the French court on Tuesday, September 4, Shirley said a panel of 10 multi-national judges heard the cases outlined by a barrister and then the Government's case. Their decision could be months away.

A spokesman for the RD&E said: "The RD&E has maintained throughout that staff should comply with the trust policy on dress code and uniform and that wearing a necklace of any description ran the risk of compromising safety of hospital patients and staff providing patient care.

"This policy is entirely consistent with Department of Health guidelines."

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  • Joannah  |  September 18 2012, 9:13PM

    If a necklace can be grabbed (although I believe she had said that she would make it ungrabbable) then so can those scarves that staff are now wearing - far more easily in fact. We are told that they are not essential to their faith so why are they allowed to wear them? A teaching assistant was deemed unemployable if she wished to continue wearing such get-up so why are hospital staff allowed to wear them. If the hospital has made a stand about a necklace then they should also make a stand about the scarves. Could it be that the hospital will go out of its way not to offend certain staff but not others. It all smacks as though the cross-wearing nurse was an easy touch to bully whereas the scarf-wearing ones would play the race card.

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  • GlassPrison  |  September 17 2012, 11:40AM

    Oh blah blah blah, I'm sick of hearing about this woman...! Stop giving her the coverage on what is a completely pointless story, she will loose in court and look stupid at the end of it!!

  • stevebatkin  |  September 17 2012, 11:14AM

    In Britain I'm afraid Shirley really is up against it. We live in a country thoroughly dominated by a global banking community and their ideas. Slowly but surely we are going to lose our culture! http://tinyurl.com/c5fch56

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  • exebomb  |  September 17 2012, 8:42AM

    ThomasG i like your point but still dont like people wearing crosses publicly but yes they shouldnt have a v-neck but then if ur clothes covered it up anyway you still shouldnt wear it. and reasonable98 you need to change your name reason is the last thing you belive in...a god who sacrificed Himself to Himself to change a rule He made Himself very reasonable....

  • ThomasG  |  September 15 2012, 10:34AM

    Seems to be a pretty poor way of thanking someone for 30 years' noble service. And if the hospital is worried about staff being grabbed, then why did they introduce these new V-style tunics anyway? The V-neck itself would seem to be at least as easy a target as a necklace being worn above it.

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  • reasonable98  |  September 14 2012, 10:18PM

    The posts so far have shown a remarkable vitriol against Shirley Chaplin; usually when one excites such an extreme reaction it is fairly clear that you are right. Well done, Shirley Chaplin! You have no idea just how many millions of people are in complete agreement with you! Keep up the good work!

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  • MrMeMeMe  |  September 14 2012, 7:39PM

    Why was my original post removed ? Not since the Romans have public crucifixions been permitted and my point was that publicly crucifying annoying members of the public , whatever benefit may be had from that , would certainly be a breach of the Human Rights Act ...

  • exebomb  |  September 14 2012, 2:22PM

    clover321 i think that her position this woman has taken is un-defendable even if you belive the same things she does, it like us going to a church and demanding everyone has to wear crosses some will be ok with it and some will probaly suggest it isnt nessesary all the time - what the NHS have asked this woman is perfectly reasonable and she isnt doing her cause and other christians any good by being so defensive. Whats next christians not letting gays into thier hotels??......oh thats happened as well.

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  • clover321  |  September 14 2012, 12:52PM

    MrMeMeMe, thanks, your post made me laugh out loud. exebomb, well said. There have been several articles on this website about this story, with no comments in support of Shirley Chaplin. It restores my 'faith' in society! Let's just hope the European Convention of Human Rights is as sensible as our NHS Trust.

  • exebomb  |  September 14 2012, 11:11AM

    She chooses not to hide her faith then she should work in a christian establishment, hospitals have to embrace equality and have to show that they cant Offer preferential treatment, As an atheist I would be offended if a trained intelligent person was offering me care but was stupid enough to believe that the bible is true, and I would be making pre-conceptions about that person and assuming that the person offering care was also judging me. Hospitals like schools can't let people publicly show their personal beliefs, and if they want to show it the by all means get a different job where believing in such utter nonsense won't make any difference to anyone. Every Christian I know says that they believe that they have a "personal relationship" with Jesus that's great but make sure it stays personal because me and many others know exactly what you believe in and find it offensive and don't want to put my trust in a person who believes in prayer or the bible as I would highly doubt their ability to offer unbiased care. She needs to sort her life priorities out Jesus wouldnt want her to loose her job over this.

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