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Nurse loses battle to wear her Christian cross at work

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 16, 2013

Shirley Chaplain after the European Court of Human Rights rejected her case on the grounds of health and safety

A Christian nurse who lost a major battle over discrimination at work in a Devon hospital has said she plans to appeal against the verdict.

Shirley Chaplin, 57 and from Exeter, was stopped from wearing a necklace with a cross by the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital – despite having worn it for 30 years.

Judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg yesterday rejected her case on the grounds that the removal of her necklace was necessary to protect the health and safety of nurses and patients.

The nurse took the hospital to an employment tribunal in 2010, claiming that taking off the cross would violate her faith.

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Mrs Chaplin said: "I feel that Christians are very marginalised in the work place, we don't get a fair hearing. Other faiths are allowed to manifest their beliefs through clothing or jewellery in their workplace; Christians are not.

"On one hand Prime Minister David Cameron is saying he will allow crosses to be worn at work and then you've got the other side of the story where health and safety trumps religious beliefs. Somewhere there needs to be a more equal balance."

Bishop of Exeter Michael Langrish said: "What I would like to see is a level playing field. The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital said the issue of health and safety trumped the rights of a nurse. But every day you see doctors and nurses wearing plastic cards which hang from their uniform. Why shouldn't Christians be allowed to wear that cross to express their faith?"

Lynn Lane, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust human resources director, said the hospital was "pleased" the verdict had endorsed the findings of an employment tribunal in Exeter in April 2010.

She said: "Our own dress code for clinical staff is in accordance with Department of Health guidelines and designed to protect the health and safety of our patients and staff. We always endeavour to respond sensitively and constructively to issues raised by our staff in relation to the policy and in this case suggested a number of potential solutions to Mrs Chaplin, all of which she rejected."

James Gould, a graduate teaching assistant in the Law School at the University of Exeter, said: "As the Evangelical Alliance rightly noted there appears to be a 'hierarchy of rights'. What we're noticing is secular liberalism coming down hard on Christians. The whole issue was decided over Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights: freedom of thought, conscience and religion – any infringement of this article on religious freedom would provide a chilling effect on the ability of groups to convey their opinions."

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said she was "saddened" over the verdict. She said: "The court said that although they recognised that the cross was a Christian symbol, the hospital, the Government, was entitled to say that on the grounds of health and safety she should have to take off her cross."

Marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane and registrar Lillian Ladele also lost their cases in the same ruling, and all three including Mrs Chaplin can appeal against the decision at the Grand Chamber of the Court.

However, British Airways employee Nadia Eweida won her legal battle after she was forced out of her job for wearing a cross. The Prime Minister welcomed that ruling on Twitter. He wrote: "Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs."

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