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Nurse challenges cross necklace ban

Mary Onuoha was ‘treated like a criminal’ for wearing her small cross necklace
A Christian nurse is challenging her former hospital after being forced out of her job because she wouldn't remove her small cross necklace.

Mary Onuoha was told her small gold cross, clasped to her neck, which she had worn for 40 years as a symbol of her deep Christian faith, was a health and safety risk and "must not be visible." But no good reason has been shown why Mary's cross is a risk and people of other faiths and none were allowed to wear jewellery, saris, turbans and hijabs without incident. 
This and other evidence points to management being about the visibility of the cross, not genuine health and safety concerns.

Mary has been giving evidence today at the Employment Tribunal and has been supported by our Christian Legal Centre for several years.

Please pray for Mary and her legal team - particularly Michael Phillips and Pavel Stroilov - as the trial continues.

Read on to find out more about the case, including coverage from newspapers.
Banned for wearing a cross necklace. Mary's story was featured in today's Times.
Read coverage in the Times
Read the story in the Daily Mail
Listen to the story on Premier Christian Radio

The visibility of the cross

The Christian Legal Centre previously supported the similar case of Shirley Chaplin, one of four cases taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

The UK government at the time astonishingly claimed at the time that the cross was not a Christian symbol and that Shirley and other Christians had freedom of religion because they were free to resign from their jobs.
The European Court of Human Rights saw through these arguments - wearing the cross is an expression of Christian faith and so is a freedom to be protected - but said that Shirley's case was within the 'margin of appreciation' allowed to national courts.

It said that it was not in a position to examine the application of the Health and Safety policy. It had to assume that it was justified, as the UK Courts had suggested. However, no credible Health and Safety risk was ever demonstrated by the hospital in Shirley's case - nor in Mary's to date.

There was widespread support for the freedom to wear a cross. The Equality and Human Rights Commission called for a new law to protect the freedom to wear a cross. Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, robustly supported the freedom to wear a cross in the similar case of Nadia Eweida, saying:

"Mrs Eweida is a member of a group — Christians — and she wanted to express her membership of that group in a small and inoffensive way. She was suspended and sent home. She was told she could not have contact with the public. She was discriminated against. She did suffer disadvantage. It is plain as a pikestaff. Government lawyers should run up the white flag now. Never mind Strasbourg: it is time for some common sense."

It is not essential for Christians to wear a cross. But for those who do, being unnecessarily forced to take it off or cover it up can feel like abandoning or being ashamed of Jesus. For them it is an important (and harmless) way to manifest their faith and show that they follow Jesus. We need more Christians to be visible and vocal about their faith.

‘Attack on my faith’

Mrs Onuoha said: "This has always been an attack on my faith. My cross has been with me for 40 years. It is part of me, and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm. Patients often say to me, ‘I really like your cross’. They always respond to it in a positive way and that gives me joy and makes me feel happy. I am proud to wear it as I know God loves me so much and went through this pain for me.

"At this hospital there are members of staff who go to a mosque four times a day and no one says anything to them. Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre. Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job.

"I was astonished that senior staff were prepared to potentially endanger a patient’s life in order to intimidate me to remove it.

"From a young age I naturally always wanted to care for people – it was in my blood. All I have ever wanted is to be a nurse and to be true to my faith. I am a strong woman, but I have been treated like a criminal. I love my job, but I am not prepared to compromise my faith for it, and neither should other Christian NHS staff in this country."

Choice between faith and profession

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre representing Mrs Onuoha, said: "From the beginning, this case has been about one or two members of staff being offended by the cross – the worldwide, recognised and cherished symbol of the Christian faith.

"It is upsetting that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, has been forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves.

"Why do some NHS employers feel that the cross is less worthy of protection or display than other religious attire?

"How Mary was treated over a sustained period was appalling and cannot go unchallenged.

"Mary’s whole life has been dedicated to caring for others and her love for Jesus. We are determined to fight for justice."
Find out more about Mary and her case

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