Archbishop wades into BA cross row
The Archbishop of York says British Airways' refusal to let a staff member wear a cross on the outside of her clothing is "nonsense".
Dr John Sentamu, the country's second most senior Church of England cleric, urged BA to reconsider its decision.
He said the ruling - allowing male Sikh staff to wear turbans and female Muslim staff to wear hijabs, as they cannot be worn under a uniform - was "flawed".
The incident has caused a huge public row, with Tory MP Ann Widdecombe saying she would boycott BA if they did not change their policy.
BA permits religious apparel like veils, turbans and bangles when their use is a core part of the religion. It also permits all items of jewellery, including crosses, to be worn underneath its uniform.
However, crosses are not required items for most Christians, and many Protestants refuse to wear them at all.
Because of the historic alignment of Christianity with Western culture, they have also for many people become fashion items with little religious significance.
Heathrow check-in worker Nadia Eweida, 55, of Twickenham, London, lost her appeal against BA's decision on Monday.
She has been on unpaid leave since her bosses first said she could not visibly wear her cross.
BA pointed out that it had not banned the wearing of crosses and said Ms Eweida had a right to a second appeal.
It said its uniform policy stated that all items of jewellery could be worn if concealed underneath the uniform.
But Dr John Sentamu said BA, as a national carrier, ought to consider the place of Christian values represented by the cross.
"For me, the cross is important because it reminds me that God keeps his promises," the Archbishop said.
"Wearing a cross carries with it not only a symbol of our hopes but also a responsibility to act and to live as Christians.
"This symbol does not point only upwards but also outwards, it reminds us of our duties not only to God but also to one another.
"British Airways needs to look again at this decision and to look at the history of the country it represents, whose culture, laws, heritage and tradition owes so much to the very same symbol it would ban."
The cross however has for many people in the world, also become a symbol of oppression, because of its association with crusades and conquest.
After Monday's decision, Ms Eweida said: "I am fairly disappointed but I'm looking forward to the next stage because the cross is important and the truth will be revealed.
"It is important to wear it to express my faith so that other people will know that Jesus loves them."
Ms Eweida said she wanted to be able to do as people of other faiths did and be allowed to wear visible religious symbols.
BA said in a statement: "British Airways has 34,000 uniformed staff, all of whom know they must abide by our uniform policy.
"The policy does not ban staff from wearing a cross. It lays down that personal items of jewellery, including crosses may be worn - but underneath the uniform. Other airlines have the same policy.
"The policy recognises that it is not practical for some religious symbols - such as turbans and hijabs - to be worn underneath the uniform. This is purely a question of practicality. There is no discrimination between faiths.
"In Nadia Eweida's case, she is not suspended and we want her to come back to work. We have explained to her the need to comply with the uniform policy like all her colleagues whatever their faith."
BA said Ms Eweida had been offered a non-uniformed post were she would be able to openly wear her cross but had refused to take it.
She has seven days to lodge another appeal against the airline's decision.
The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia says that arguments like this are increasing because old ëChristendomí assumptions about a privileged place for Christianity are collapsing. They urge a less heated, more reflective approach.
In his new book, Faith and Politics After Christendom, Ekklesiaís Jonathan Bartley says some Christians are seeking aggressively to reassert their influence and profile ñ while others reject this as incompatible a Gospel focused on community, service, peacemaking and identification with those at the margins of society.
ìWe need a radically different spirit in this conversationî, says Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. ìRather than trying to restrict each otherís symbols or seeking to impose our beliefs on others, we should commit to making space for difference in public life.î
The think tank also questions the way some Christians are quickly resorting to language about persecution. ìGiven that Britain is a pretty open society, this kind of talk lacks proportion and is grossly insensitive towards many different minority groups across the world who face prison or death for their convictions,î says Barrow.
In France there has been a ban on overt religious symbols in schools and other public places since 2004. Groups like the National Secular Society favour moves in this direction in the UK, but civil liberties campaigners argue that prescriptions are not a good way of balancing sensitivities with freedom of expression.
[Also on Ekklesia: Faith and Politics After Christendom by Jonathan Bartley; Restoring our faith in free speech Simon Barrow explains why Christians should shun censorship; Rethinking hate speech, blasphemy and free expression; The veils governing our own thinking - bridges not barriers will help relations with Muslims]