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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Take Off Your Crucifix: Creating An Ungodly Workplace

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; this right includes
freedom to change his religion or belief,
and freedom, either alone or in community with others
 and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief,
 in worship, teaching, practice and observance."
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights

British official say Christians have no legal right to openly wear a crucifix at work. This rule is being challenged in court. In a landmark legal battle, Britain's government announced it will side against two women who say they were laid off or sidelined for sporting Christian symbols in the workplace. Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, will face government lawyers when the case reaches the European Court of Human Rights.

The Christian women bringing the case claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbols. They want the European Court to rule that this breached their human right to manifest their religion.

At issue is article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects a person's right to "to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

British officials argue that wearing a cross
is not a "requirement of faith,"
 while lawyers for the women say requirements
 are irrelevant—crucifixes "manifest" faith, so they're protected.       
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said the case was another example of “Christianity becoming sidelined in official life.” Carey has long warned of the attack on the “rich legacy” of the faith in Britain.
Many Britons believe this fight is actually part of an older fight: one between British officials and Christian leaders over a dicier topic – gay marriage – which Prime Minister David Cameron openly supports. Some say its outcome could affect whether Parliament fully legitimizes same-sex marriages in England and Wales.

And thus ensues a good old fashioned semantic wrestling match, with lawyers on both sides wrangling over whether "manifesting" under Article 9 equates to a dictate of one's faith.Though, it's not as if the government has issued a direct ban on Christian jewelry — it's only given employers the right to determine what sort of environment their workplace will be.

Lawyers for the two women claim that the Government is setting the bar too high and that “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.

They say that Christians are given less protection than members of other religions who have been granted special status for garments or symbols such as the Sikh turban and kara bracelet, or the Muslim hijab.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate judgment of matters of theology and worship about which they can claim no expertise.

“The irony is that when governments and courts dictate to Christians that the cross is a matter of insignificance, it becomes an even more important symbol and expression of our faith.”
Symbols and Meaning

I would guess, according to the British government, religious symbols other than the cross that are not a requirement of faith are to be banned at the work site. To be fair, any interpretation of Article 9 must consider an exhaustive list of these symbols. Here are a few to consider.

How about the Celtic Cross?

The Celtic Cross has held Christian significance. In some explanations, the number 4 holds great meaning. The 4 arms of the Cross could represent: North, South, East and West or Fire, Earth, Air and Water or Mind, Body, Soul and Heart.

Most interpretations of the Cross agree that the circle portion symbolizes eternal life and God's infinite love.

How about the Star of David?

The hexagram has been in use as a symbol of Judaism since the 17th century, with precedents in the 14th to 16th centuries in Central Europe, where the Shield of David was partly used in conjunction with the Seal of Solomon (the hexagram) on Jewish flags. Its use probably derives from medieval (11th to 13th century) Jewish protective amulets.

How about the Ichthus Symbol of the Fish?

The fish outline is a logical symbol for the early Christian church to adopt. Fish are often mentioned in the gospels. This is what one would expect, if Jesus did most of his teaching in the Galilee. The synoptic gospels state this, although the Gospel of John denies it. Fish were a staple in the diet of Galilee.

How about the Eight-spoked Dharma Wheel?

The Eight-Spoked Dharma Wheel or 'Dharmachakra' (Sanskrit) symbolises the Buddha's turning the Wheel of Truth or Law (dharma = truth/law, chakra = wheel).

The wheel refers to the story that shortly after the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Brahma came down from heaven and requested the Buddha to teach by offering him a Dharmachakra. The Buddha is known as the Wheel-Turner: he who sets a new cycle of teachings in motion and in consequence changes the course of destiny.

Of Religions and Symbols and Rules

I find the officials decision that Christians have no legal right to openly wear a crucifix at work to be ludicrous. As a symbol or merely as an ornamentation, any design not grossly repugnant to the general public or disruptive to the work environment, can be displayed by an individual under the Article 9 rights of "freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Common sense, heritage as it applies to history and values, and tolerance should be considered in decisions such as this. The physical cross is, indeed, a "manifest" of Christian faith -- a display readily perceived by the eye and by the understanding of those who see it. How can anyone protect the senses and understandings of all the work staff regarding any symbol?

I am personally offended by a motorcycle club member who openly sports a swastika because it is the symbol of Nazism, but in America, we understand that personal expression that does not violate other people's rights must be suffered for the sake of freedom. I can say the same for the Rebel flag. Because of its obvious racial connotations, I cringe when I see it displayed on cars and on homes. When I see people show such disregard for the masses as to flaunt an unpopular philosophy, I normally regard those folks as uneducated and rude. But, let the fools be seen and heard as what they truly are.

The cross has become offensive to many because it is a symbol of Christianity. Persecution is coming more and more from the state, which seems to have decided that the biggest threat to its existence is biblical Christianity. Christians, of course, claim a higher loyalty to the only one true sovereign. To a Christian, the state, which has delegated – and limited - authority from God, cannot claim or demand ultimate allegiance.

Columnist Bill Muehlenberg says, "That is partly why all sorts of laws are being passed to effectively silence the Christian churches. All sorts of cheap excuses are brought up to render believers ineffective in proclaiming their faith." ("Christian Persecution On the Rise," Christian Today, May 26 2009)

Muehlenberg tells of an incredible case in San Diego, California:  

“A San Diego pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a county official and warned they will face escalating fines if they continue to hold Bible studies in their home. The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.

“’Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say “amen”?’ the official reportedly asked. ‘Do you say, “Praise the Lord”?’ The pastor’s wife answered yes. She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding ‘religious assemblies’ until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars. And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, ‘and then it will get ugly.'"

I remember this incident that involved the cross:

"In 2004, the NFL rescinded its fine on quarterback Jon Kitna for wearing a cap with a cross to interviews after a Cincinnati Bengals game during the season. The league fined Kitna $5,000 in December for violating a rule that only NFL apparel can be worn for interviews immediately following games. He appealed the fine, which prompted a backlash by fans and churchgoers.

"Kitna routinely wears a cap with a cross to interviews during the week, underscoring his religious beliefs. He violated a league policy by wearing it for a postgame interview in December.

"The league prohibits non-NFL apparel after a game, a way of protecting its sponsorship deals. Kitna thought the rule applied only to products that include a competing company's logo or name.

"'My intent was never to break the rule,' Kitna said. 'I just didn't think it was intended for things that weren't in competition with (NFL sponsors).'" (Joe Kay, "NFL Rescinds Kitna's Fine For Cross Cap," USA Today, February 5 2004)

How silly things have become. Big government and big business concern themselves with something as inoffensive as a person wearing a symbolic cross. In England and America, no less! In light of the important role of human rights in our legal and political systems, courts should grant maximum protection for these symbols under the freedom of religion or belief.

Yet, England's populace is a mix of many diverse cultures and religions, and, therefore, the government must protect everyone against threats to their security. Terrorists who vow to destroy Christianity pose a significant danger to the general public. I do understand innocent people could be killed by terrorists over something as simple as displaying a cross in the workplace. This is the sad state of the world, especially across the seas.

Do we live in a world where we must sacrifice every vestige of every belief that somehow offends others? I don't understand  why people can't tolerate something as basic as the religious principles and the simple religious manifestations of others. Isn't the goal of a world mired in disagreement and war supposed to be peace and harmony? Not peace and harmony by forcing all religions and nations to accept restrictions on their different philosophies, rather peace and harmony by tolerating, and even, celebrating the wealth of diversity on the planet.

We all should follow the good teachings of our God, no matter of His/Her name, and be proud to carry positivity into the workplace, the court systems, the halls of government, and the schools. Forcing religion, or the absence of it, down a person's throat is an act that should be deemed entirely unacceptable and reason for dismissal; however, asking a religious believer to completely divorce himself/herself from Godliness in any setting is a violation of human rights.

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