Friday, 18 January 2013

Cross purposes

I have mixed feelings about the decisions  of the  European Court of Human Rights on the rights of Christians to wear crosses.

The ruling against the nurse who wanted the right to wear a cross on a chain round her neck while on duty is surely correct.  The court decided that the hospital's regulations  for preventing infection were more important than her right to declare her faith in the manner she wished.  In fact, the nurse had turned down the hospital's compromise solution, that she should clip her cross to her name tag, which suggests that she was more interested in making  a challenge than in finding a solution.

The decision to permit a British Airways staff member to wear her cross publicly while on duty is more problematic.  The reason given was that her right to proclaim her faith is more important than BA's uniform rules.  I'm not so sure.  In the staff member's favour, she is a Coptic Christian, and it may be an important part of Coptic tradition that a cross should be publicly displayed.  In addition,  since to identify oneself   in Egypt as a Christian is  dangerous, it may well also be an expression of the lady's pleasure in living in a tolerant country where advertising her faith would not lead to her risking being murdered.

But where will it all end?  Is the same right to be extended to to the police, army, fire brigade, other organisations with uniform or dress rules?  As far as I know, apart from bishops, who customarily wear a pectoral cross, there is no tradition in Western Christianity,  Roman Catholic or Protestant, that requires adherents to wear,  publicly or even privately, a cross. Yet there's now a distinct possibility that the more aggressively evangelical of our brethren (and sisteren) will seize on this ruling and demand the right be extended to them.

Anyone who's ever been deputy head of a secondary school with uniform or dress regulations will know that, however reasonable and democratically arrived at the rules are, some smart Alec, or Alice, will push them beyond the boundary of what was intended .  The ECHR's ruling exposes all organisations with uniform or dress rules to unnecessary harassment.

As it happens, my "daily portion" this week (which I read in French  pour faire avec une pierre deux coups) has covered the First Epistle of St Peter, Chapter 3, which contains the injunction:

"(Your) adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart,  in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God a great price."

Now, that is part of our tradition, or should be..

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