Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
Judges ruled Nadia Eweida’s rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
She took her case to the European Court of Human Rights after BA made her stop wearing a cross visibly.
Judges ruled that the rights of three other Christians had not been violated by their employers.
They brought cases against the government for not protecting their rights but ministers, who contested the claims, argued that the rights of the employees were only protected in private.
British Airways said: “Our own uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to wear symbols of faith and she and other employees have been working under these arrangements for the last six years.
“Miss Eweida has worked continuously for British Airways for 13 years.”
Following the rulings, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “delighted” that the “principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld”, adding that people “shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs”.
And the Archbishop of York said Christians and those of other faiths “should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination”.
The other cases involved nurse Shirley Chaplin, 57, whose employer also stopped her wearing necklaces with a cross, Gary McFarlane, 51 – a marriage counsellor fired after saying he might object to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples – and registrar Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.
All four lost separate employment tribunals relating to their beliefs and made individual applications to the court, but their cases are being heard together.
Nadia Eweida, 60, was banned from displaying her white gold cross at work.
The four Christians claimed their employers’ actions went against articles nine and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protected their rights to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and prohibited religious discrimination.
Nadia Eweida, a Coptic Christian from Twickenham in south-west London, was asked to leave her job in 2006 after refusing to remove her cross.
An employment tribunal found she had not been subjected to religious discrimination.
BA had already altered its uniform code, prior to the tribunal, to allow symbols of faith, including crosses.
Lillian Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council, in north London, after saying she did not want to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. Her lawyers said the service could have been performed by other employees who were prepared to carry them out.
The Christian Institute said it was “disappointed” by the ruling, adding that it showed Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage were “at risk of being left out in the cold”.
Gary McFarlane, a Bristol relationship counsellor, worked for the Avon branch of national charity Relate but was sacked for gross misconduct in 2008 after saying on a training course he might have an objection to discussing sexual problems with gay couples.
He said the decision taken by European judges in his case was “a regrettable judgment” for all faiths, not just Christians, and said he would discuss his next move with his lawyers.
Shirley Chaplin, from Exeter, was transferred to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital for failing to remove a confirmation crucifix on a small chain, which she had worn to work for 30 years.
Following the rulings, Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu released a statement in which he said: “Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination.
“Christians are not obliged to wear a cross but should be free to show their love for and trust in Jesus Christ in this way if they so wish.”
He said the Equality Act 2010 “encourages employers to embrace diversity – including people of faith”, adding: “Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule.”
Keith Porteous-Wood, of the National Secular Society, said his organization was “absolutely delighted” about the rulings because it wanted to make sure “we don’t end up with a hierarchy of rights with religion at the top”.
He said the idea that there was a form of ban on wearing crosses was “absolutely risible” because hundreds of thousands of people wear crosses around the UK “with no problem at all”.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the judgment was “an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense”.
She said British courts had “lost their way” in Nadia Eweida’s case and “Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance.”
“However the court was also right to uphold judgments in other cases that employers can expect staff not to discriminate in the discharge of duties at work,” she added.