European Court of Human Rights upholds freedom of religion for Christian employees
What’s at Stake
- The freedom of religious expression
- The right to manifest one’s faith in the workplace
- The right of conscience to wear Christian symbols
Like many Christians around the world, Nadia Eweida wears a cross as an outward expression of her faith. So when her employer told her to remove her cross necklace or cover it up, she put her faith first and refused to do so. Her decision to stay true to her faith proved costly at first, but with help from ADF International, she won back her right to wear the cross at work.
It was in 2006 that Nadia’s employer, an international airline, told her that she was no longer allowed to openly wear her cross at work. Because the cross held such deep personal meaning for her, she wasn’t prepared to cover it up or take it off. There also seemed to be a disparity in the way that she was being treated, because the airline allowed employees of other faiths to wear religious symbols such as Muslim head coverings and Sikh turbans. As a result of her stand, Nadia was eventually sent home without pay.
Nadia wanted to be treated equally and not only stand up for her own freedom, but for other Christians who faced similar issues in the workplace. ADF International helped her make this stand, funding her case when she took a claim of religious discrimination to the domestic courts in December 2006.
During four years of legal battles, the British courts failed to allow her the freedom to wear the cross. They repeatedly ruled that her request to visibly wear a small cross was not protected by her fundamental right to freedom of religion. The case was then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in September 2010. ADF International was given permission to make legal submissions to the Court along with other allied organizations.
In contrast to the courts’ stance, Nadia gained widespread sympathy from politicians and the public when her story came to light. More than 100 members of the British Parliament signed a motion in support of her, and the case sparked worldwide outrage and global media coverage.
In a groundbreaking decision, the ECHR ruled in January 2013 that the British Government had failed in its obligation to protect religious freedom as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Nadia was vindicated at last and her decision to put her faith first paid off.
Paul Coleman, senior legal counsel for ADF International, said, “This is truly historic as it is the first time the United Kingdom has ever lost a religious freedom case before the European Court of Human Rights. We are delighted that the Court recognized that employees must not be discriminated against on the basis of their Christian faith.”
Our Role in the Case
ADF International provided funding for Nadia Eweida’s case and presented legal submissions to the European Court of Human Rights.