Aujourd’hui la Grande-Bretagne est considérée comme un pays où l’on exprimer ouvertement sa religion. Pourtant il y a quelques années, British Airways a empêché une hôtesse de l’air de porter un signe religieux chrétien. Si cela peut sembler étrange car le christianisme est la première religion en Grande-Bretagne, et la liberté religieuse un droit inaliénable selon les Droits de l’Homme, le fait que l’Union Européenne ait dû intervenir dans cette affaire ne remet-elle pas en cause l’efficacité du système judiciaire britannique ?
In 2006, a fifty-year-old airline check-in clerk, Nadia Eweida, a Copt Christian, decided to resign from British Airways, as the airline company prohibited her from wearing a necklace with a tiny silver cross. Indeed, she felt she was unfairly discriminated against as other employees had the right to wear Islamic headscarves and Sikh turbans. Despite the modification of company rules in 2007, she decided to lodge a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.
This could indeed seem quite paradoxical in a country such as Great Britain where the official religion is Christianity, and more specifically Anglicanism, with hence a majority of Christians: Catholics and Protestants gather 71% of the British population. There is a specific historical reason for it: Before the reign of Henri VIII, Great Britain was a catholic country, but when the Pope refused to let him divorce from his first wife, he decided to create the Anglican Church. Protestantism became the most important religion in the country. (Protestantism had already spread before the schism)
Nevertheless, today, we could consider that Nadia Eweida turned tables on the British firm and won her case: on January 15th, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the “UK had failed to protect Nadia Eweida’s freedom to manifest her faith in the workplace”. Indeed, in its judgement, the court argued that expressing one’s religion is a “fundamental right”. Hence, the court’s decision was to grant her 32,000 euros (about 25,000 pounds) for her legal costs and in compensation for her moral damage.
But not all similar cases were treated the same way: three other British Christians, who considered themselves the victims of discrimination in their professional lives, contrary to Mrs. Eweida, were dismissed. In the case of Shirley Chaplin, for instance, who also lodged a complaint for not being able to wear a cross around her neck during her hours of duty, the court estimated that the fact that the employer’s reasons were about safety measures was enough to make Shirley’s complaint obsolete.
Such an event has huge repercussions on how Britain is perceived abroad. The fact that even the European Court of Human Rights decided to take Nadia Eweida’s side shows that there are contradictions inside a company that is a symbol of Great Britain abroad. Hence, we could consider this as a humiliation for the British government and David Cameron who promised to change the law to enshrine a worker’s right to wear a cross.
Is it a way for the European Union to insist on the weakness of the British system? This could indeed be a way for the Europeans to aim at the unfairness of the British judiciary system. So as to soften the increasing political tensions between Great Britain and the European Union, David Cameron twitted his support to Mrs. Eweida: “Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs ».
Lilia OUALI, Agathe de ANDOLENKO & Léa GANNE.