Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Cross!

Here is my column from this week’s Ham & High:

I was walking down Crescent Road in my constituency the other day when a woman came up to me and said something to the effect of, ‘I think you are a fantastic MP – but I am so upset that you are banning people from wearing the cross’.

So – from the mischievous misinformation from the pages of our print media to my home beat – I am fed up with this misrepresentation – hence this column.

The short version is this: the government is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights in a court case on whether there is a human right to wear a cross at work. What the government has been arguing (and British law states) is that people should be free to wear crosses if they wish, unless their employer has a compelling reason to say ‘no’ (such as risk of it carrying an infection in hospitals).

The grounds for saying ‘no’ have to be reasonable and cannot be used as a backdoor way to discriminate against any religion. They would be subject to a court being able to rule on whether the employer really is being reasonable. The same principle should also apply to the symbols or items that are important to other religions. (This is in fact all how the law is currently interpreted; the case is coming from people who want to change it.)

What that also means the government is also arguing against is the claim that is being made for a special legal right to wear a cross that would trump such provisions and mean that someone could insist on their right to wear a cross, even if an employer had reasonable grounds to say ‘no’.

Alas, some have decided to report that latter as if the government thinks people should have no rights at all to wear a cross. Not so! No-one is arguing that employers should be able to prohibit cross wearing on a whim or without very good reason.

Both I and the Government believe that people should be able to wear crosses openly at work. I have never – in any place or organisation that I have worked for or in over the years – seen or heard of anyone being told not to wear a cross. I have never, in my own office, ever stopped anyone wearing anything.

In fact, the occasional eye-catching case aside, employers are generally very good at being reasonable in accommodating people’s religious beliefs – and rightly so.

The legal case itself involves the Equality Act 2010. Under this, employers can apply certain rules, for example about not wearing jewellery, which may have an impact on people of certain religions. If any policy has that effect, then the employer must have, to use the jargon, a proportionate and legitimate reason for adopting it, such as for health and safety reasons or in order to comply with a legitimate uniform policy.

The current law applies in the same way to people of all religions and beliefs. It makes clear that any actions that would directly discriminate against those of a particular religion, such as Christianity, are unlawful. In addition, where a policy indirectly discriminates against those of a particular religion and this policy cannot be justified, that is also unlawful.

Those are very important provisions and protect against a bigoted employer trying to discriminate in the guise of health and safety or other workplace policies. They are also why the Government believes that the Equality Act 2010 (supported by all three parties) strikes the right balance between employees’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs at work and the business needs and requirements of the particular employer.

The Government greatly values the vital role that Christian organisations have in our society and the part they play in national life, inspiring a great number of people to get involved in public service and providing help to those in need.

So – I explained the actuality to my constituent – and she said she had thought it very peculiar that someone who is as liberal as I am would wish to ban the cross.

Indeed!

Thu 12 April 2012
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Comments

  1. Tracy says:

    This is just typical of the misinformation that gets out there. The problem is that once the media put the lies out there then the harm is done. People read the headlines and no words of explanation can convince them it is wrong.

    If it was law that anyone could wear a cross no matter what their employer said, then what about health and safely rules. How many people operating dangerous machinery could get chains stuck and seriously injure themselves? It’s madness!

  2. [...] The myth was put forward by Quentin Letts in a misogynistic Daily Mail piece (one for which I took him to task in last weeks Dispatch Box.) Lynne not only used her local paper, but reproduced the piece on her blog. [...]

  3. Stewart Cowan says:

    Tracy,

    I think the problem has arisen because some people still believe that the UK Government is in control of the UK.

    #trialsfortreason

  4. polly says:

    The Christian cross IS an offensive symbol to people who simply wish to work in peace and not have chritian symbols waved in their face. People wear the cross because they want YOU to know they share the values of an organisation which preaches intolerance and lies against peoples personal lifestyles which are no business of the church. A spiteful and ignorant religeon that should be wiped off the face of the earth.

  5. Robert Bliss says:

    That’s interesting Lynne, because I’ve just read your submission to the European Court regarding the two Christians who were penalised for wanting to wear a cross, and it seems that the Government is enthusiastically supporting their employers in banning the cross.

    Even more revealing and remarkable are the following statements from the Government in the submission:

    Section 10:

    “In neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or Crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith.”

    Really?????? Jaw-dropping.

    Section 13:

    “Where the individual in question is free to resign and seek employment elsewhere or practise their religion unfettered outside their employment, that is sufficient to guarantee their Article 9 rights in domestic law.”

    Religious freedom is the freedom to resign? Do you really believe that Lynne???

    Smells a bit Marxist to me.

    Barry

  6. suzy bee says:

    The truth in Robert’s post surely stings a bit – i’m sure there wouldn’t have been such a buzz around this topic if there weren’t some inconsistencies between what you say in your blog, Ms Featherstone, and what the Government actually submits to the EC.

  7. Helen says:

    Don’t worry Lynne, this was just a dream – in real life no-one comes up to you and says: ‘I think you are a fantastic MP.’

  8. Stewart Cowan says:

    Polly is exhibiting the *real* intolerance which exists in this country. Lynne and New Labour – you did that. You denied the vast majority the right to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and you have even trashed property rights.

    All in the name of ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’.

    I know it’s all being done to divide and rule and to try and restrict our thoughts and speech and to destroy the fabric of a decent, strong society through attacking family values.

    But do you? Yet?

  9. Adam says:

    “she said she had thought it very peculiar that someone who is as liberal as I am would wish to ban the cross.”

    Gosh- what then must she make of you:

    a) being in bed with a bunch of nasty right wing idealogues;
    b) destroying the NHS by back door privatisation;
    c) charging £9,000 per annum to students having said you would basically die in a ditch to avoid doing so:
    d) slashing welfare and disability benefits;
    e) reducing basic employment rights;
    f) reducing taxes for the very rich;
    g) producing the most serious street riots for a generation within 15 months of coming to office;
    h) increasing VAT to 20%;
    i) signing up to cyber snooping that you reviled when in so called opposition;
    j) throwing thousands of people onto the dole;
    k) hugely increasing unemployment for young people; and
    l) taxing pasties (or beef wellington as Dave knows them).

    Liberal? My ar*e.

  10. Mena Swift says:

    A cross is often worn as jewellery, ie: the same as a pendant. There appears to be a lot of defamation of character arising within Haringey and I cannot understand why this is not a major concern. Certain straight people are targetted and they are defamed as whores, prostitutes and thieves, even workers. I would stress that we should pay attention to this matter before jewellery attire.

  11. Mena Swift says:

    In all fairness to ban the cross at work would mean we would have to ban wedding rings, engagement rings, etc

  12. @Robert Bliss

    This is just a guess, but I imagine that your point is answered by Lynne in her blogpost where she says:

    “What the government has been arguing (and British law states) is that people should be free to wear crosses if they wish, unless their employer has a compelling reason to say ‘no’ (such as risk of it carrying an infection in hospitals).

    The grounds for saying ‘no’ have to be reasonable and cannot be used as a backdoor way to discriminate against any religion. They would be subject to a court being able to rule on whether the employer really is being reasonable. The same principle should also apply to the symbols or items that are important to other religions.”

    With the emphasis being on “unless their employer has a compelling reason to say ‘no’”.

    Or, to put it another way: read the blooming post before you comment.

  13. Mena Swift says:

    Most jobs do state that no jewellery should be worn, ie: crosses, wedding rings, etc all come under the title of jewellery. Should other items of jewellery be allowed by employers, such as, wedding rings, and other pendants, then obviously the employer is showing signs of religious discrimination.

    Upon job advertisements should be placed, no jewellery allowed, including, wedding rings and crosses. This should also be stated within the Contract of Employment, ie: should the proposed new employee disagree, say ‘no’ to the offer of employment.

  14. Mena Swift says:

    A further point to consider in relation to crosses is that should an employee feel insecure not wearing the cross, they should seek employment elsewhere that permits crosses.

  15. Mena Swift says:

    Should the above come into effect; the employed cross wearers should continue to be allowed to wear their crosses as this would not have been stated within their agreed Contract of Employment at the time of commencing and accepting the terms of their job stated therein.

  16. Mena Swift says:

    I must stress that the rule already exists with the medical world that states no jewellery allowed. Within most offices only wedding rings, engagement rings and a cross would be allowed. Will they ban St Christophers? St
    Christopher is suppose to offer safety whilst travelling.

  17. Mena Swift says:

    A cross worn underneath the clothing should bear no health risk at all.

  18. Mena Swift says:

    Should the cross be banned from new employees, in all fairness, wedding rings should also be banned.

  19. Harriet Harms Man says:

    It’s all mostly irrelevant nonsense anyway. Shameful how the media, courts and MPs obsess over trivial issues such as this, yet at the same time countless innocent babies go into NHS hospitals to have their genitals irreversibly mutilated against their consent, all in the name of the some existent bloke in the sky.

  20. joe says:

    I was walking down Crescent Road in my constituency the other day when a woman came up to me and said something to the effect of, ‘I think you are a fantastic MP

    LMAO!!

    You found someone who thinks so!!!!!

    And you just haaaad to reaffirm your own self-importance at the same time

    Funny!

  21. Mark W says:

    “…..I was walking down Crescent Road in my constituency the other day when a woman came up to me and said something to the effect of, ‘I think you are a fantastic MP – but I am so upset that you are banning people from wearing the cross’…..”

    “Something to the effect of”??? I wonder what other words could have been used – eh?
    You sure this didn’t happen inside the confines of your head Lynn, maybe as a kind of literary device to introduce this important topic?

    Doesn’t really have that ring of authenticity to it does it?

    Anyway over to Mena Swift who seems, in her spare time, to delight in thinking up lists of things that she could ban.

    So crosses are out then Mena – how about someone gay at work wearing a rainbow symbol? A reminder of Gods covenant with Man? May cause offence to an atheist perhaps, of perhaps smiles could offend the depressed, or vice versa, noisy staff could offend introverts, etc etc – what else do you think would be good idea to ban then Mena?

    You say that …”Most jobs do state that no jewellery should be worn…”

    Do they ? Most jobs? How do you know that, is it again something that’s happening inside your head?

    And you seem to be bothered by wedding rings as well – could they cause offence to ppl undergoing divorce, maybe those not married, or even those who can’t marry the same sex?

    Are you sure you’re a Liberal?

    You may wear Lycra cycling shorts, brew home made wine and belong to a party that’s been beaten by UKIP into forth place in EU elections, but you need some liberal attitudes on banning things to be a real lib dem.

    Mark W

  22. Mena Swift says:

    In reply to your comment, Mark W: In the interests of health and hygiene, staff should not be allowed to wear any jewellery at all within the medical or catering worlds.

    Please remember that wedding rings and crosses come under the category of jewellery.

    Within most medical and catering jobs a uniform is supplied, which automatically means no jewellery.

    Employment Contracts state the rules and regulations; should a new employee disagree with any clauses related thereto, their only option is do not accept the offer of employment unless those clauses can be deleted or altered.

  23. joe says:

    And now your mob’s down to 8% according to the latest YouGov poll.
    Even UKIP have 9%!!!!!!!!!!

    That’s the price of not sticking to your guns and also conning the electorate in the most appalling underhand way.

    No surprise you’re making up your own fan club!!!!!!!

    Doh!

  24. Mark W says:

    In reply to you Mena firstly YOU said ‘most jobs’…..

    See that – MOST JOBS – so you imply a majority – and then state health and hygiene – which as a lump sum are not ‘most jobs’

    Nor did you respond to any of my other points about you passionate love of banning things…

    Have you tried going to bingo at all?

    It may provide you with more amusement and possibly profit than your childish desire to ban things.

    have a good weekend

  25. Mena Swift says:

    Good Evening, In reply to your remark, “ban things” – it isn’t my idea to ban things the comments arose through another party wishing to ban the cross.

  26. Anthony says:

    Hi,

    I am confused by the article. It says that the Government is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights in a case about being allowed to wear a cross.

    You don’t say why or by whom.

    If the Government is keen to allow people to wear what they want at work, including crosses why are these unknown people needing to go to Europe.

    What have you done to upset them? There must be something otherwise why the court case.

    Could you elucidate further Please.

  27. Susan says:

    Can Lynne Feathersone then explain the “bare below the elbows” rule and the objection to it by some Muslims in the NHS. For very good reason nurses were told to wear short sleeves as longer ones could harbour germs and so that they could scrub their arms. But because some Muslims claimed that it is immodest to show their arms they are exempt from this rule.

    How does this comply with Lynne Featherstone’s argument that employers can ban religious requirements if it impacts on health or safety in the workplace, “such as risk of it carrying an infection in hospitals”. (See 3rd paragraph of her blog above.

  28. Mena Swift says:

    Crosses are usually worn on chains, which can be worn underneath one’s top instead of being worn on the outside of one’s top. Surely, this would be the solution, for work wear one’s cross underneath the top, but socially the cross may be worn outside one’s top.

  29. Mena Swift says:

    In relation to hygienic sleeves; three-quarter length sleeves would solve the problem.

  30. Susan says:

    Menna, re your comment about 3/4 sleeves. You miss the point, 3/4 sleeves prevent you from scrubbing your arms and the fabric could harbour germs.

    The decision by the NHS to allow exemptions from a very sensible ruling is yet another example of political correctness gone mad. Everyone should be subject to the same rules and Muslims should stop demanding special treatment, that is one of the reasons why there is so much hostility to them.

  31. Susan says:

    Mena, to be more specific, long sleeves are an infection control hazard and the ‘bare below the elbows’ rule was introduced to combat the rise in healthcare acquired infections (i.e. MRSA and C Diff) as health professionals sleeves could transport germs from one patient to another.

    So I say again, why should patient safety be compromised to accommodate the preferences of some Muslims.

    Those in the NHS who agreed to the exemption should be ashamed of themselves because they weren’t putting patients first. It is yet another indication of how much things have got out of control in this country about immigration etc. We cannot even discuss such matters sensibly without being accused of racism and so society is, in effect, blackmailed into compliance.

  32. Mena Swift says:

    The National Health Service is available to all occupants within the UK and is all about curing the sick or injured attendees. The NHS offers a free facility to attendees. The NHS’s main concern should be treating the sick and injured. In relation to attire and jewellery; there is usually the rule in most places of employment that employees must not wear jewellery and quite possibly uniforms will be provided and other rules regarding attire. In relation to crosses and sleeves, I believe that the main reason for the NHS service has been forgotten; too much time is being spent discussing crosses and attire.

  33. Mena Swift says:

    I have just thought of an idea to solve the sleeve problem; disposable gloves that cover the arms up to the elbows would be the solution.

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