In 1984, British rock star Madonna took to the stage to perform “Like a Virgin” sporting a very large cross on a chain around her neck. The song was a major hit. So was the cross. Suddenly everyone was wearing large crosses on chains, and the cross has remained a fashion item available at most costume jewelry retail outlets ever since.
In particular, it is the symbol of choice for the “Goth” movement, adherents of which wear jet black hair and clothing, chains, tattoos, and sport crosses, skulls, insects, and dragons. They also carry purses and backpacks in the shapes of coffins with crosses on the lids.
Meanwhile, two British women are currently involved in a fight with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over their right to wear crosses in their places of work. Officials within the British government have weighed into the case by arguing that because the wearing of the cross is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban wearing the cross, and employees who insist on doing so may be fired (The Sunday Telegraph, March 10, 2012).
The women, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, want the European court to rule that they have the human right to manifest their religious beliefs, based on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Eweida was fired by British Airways in 2006 for wearing a cross on duty. Chaplin, a nurse, faced disciplinary action for wearing a cross in a hospital, which ended her 31-year career as a nurse.
The British government is arguing that “the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9, and . . . the restriction on the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.”
Christian leaders, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, now accuse the British government of “sidelining Christianity,” and point out that Sikhs are allowed to wear kirpans, kara bracelets, and turbans, and Muslims are allowed to wear hijabs.
There are likely many British citizens, and other European citizens, who every day trot off to work wearing crosses with no consideration of faith or belief whatsoever. It would be interesting to know if any “Goths,” for instance, have ever been disciplined in the workplace for wearing symbols which have no particular meaning for them.
Perhaps people of no faith are allowed to wear symbols of faith if they don’t actually believe in those symbols, but people for whom those are actual manifestations of faith might find themselves accosted by the “cross police.”
The erosion of religious rights in Europe is distressing evidence that secularism is becoming the only religion tolerated in the public square. In the case of Christian crosses, perhaps the solution would be for the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury to declare that from now on, cross-wearing for Christians is mandatory. Perhaps then Christians would have the right to wear them to work.