A Christian nurse in Britain lost a discrimination claim on Tuesday after fighting a policy that barred her from wearing her crucifix to work.
Shirley Chaplin, 54, was told by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital last year that the crucifix she has worn for almost 40 years on the job without incident needed to be removed for “health and safety reasons.”
Chaplin refused to comply and consequently took the hospital to an Employment Tribunal which ruled on Tuesday that Chaplin is not facing discrimination, as it asserted that all employees are treated equally. Under the Trust's current uniform policy, however, one can wear a hijab for religious reasons but not a cross.
The NHS Trust argued that the crucifix and and chain could cause Chaplin or others harm if a patient caught hold of it, yet the nurse's offer to have a metal clasp inserted on her chain so it could easily be removed in such situations was rejected. The Trust suggested that the nurse wear cross earrings or “hide” the crucifix by pinning it on the inside of her uniform pocket.
Chaplin has worn the crucifix, a gift, since her confirmation in 1971. She intends to appeal Tribunal's ruling.
“I am disappointed, but not at all surprised by the decision of the Tribunal today,” she said in reaction on Tuesday. “It was obvious from the very start that the Trust would use every tactic possible to get itself off the hook. The Trust changed its defense several times and each time we were able to counter it with a sensible argument but this did not prevail. The Trust may have won the legal argument today, but its reputation has been damaged as the moral argument was won before I even entered the Tribunal.”
“I have had a huge amount of support from the British public, many of whom view the actions of the Exeter Trust with amazement,” Chaplin added. “It is extraordinary that the Trust can spend what must be tens of thousands of pounds defending their position, when at the same time they are making cut backs which affect patients every day.”
“What the Trust doesn’t realize,” the nurse continued, “as it seeks to enforce its uniform policy in the way it has, is that it sends out a very clear message to Christians working in the Trust or considering working for the Trust in the future that they will have to ‘hide’ their faith. The message is clear: Christians whose faith motivates their vocation and care of patients do not appear to be welcome at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust.”
“When employers or Government start to censor the conscience and convictions in this way it is a first step towards the demise of democracy,” she charged.
Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which helped represent Chaplin, said on Tuesday that “The extent to which the Trust is prepared to stop Mrs. Chaplin manifesting her religious beliefs is remarkable. We hope that the Employment Appeal Tribunal will reverse today’s decision and allow Mrs Chaplin to wear her Cross visibly, in the same way that doctors and nurses of other religions can manifest their religious beliefs.”