The European Court of Human Rights has deemed a fair balance was not struck between British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida's desire to demonstrate her religious belief with a "discreet" cross and the airline's wish to "project a certain corporate image".
The judgment, published in Strasbourg, found the airline's aim was "undoubtedly legitimate" but said British courts had accorded it "too much weight" in previous rulings.
Today's judgment is an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense. Nadia Eweida wasn't hurting anyone and was perfectly capable of doing her job whilst wearing a small cross. She had just as much a right to express her faith as a Sikh man in a turban or a Muslim woman with a headscarf.
British courts lost their way in her case and Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance. However the Court was also right to uphold judgments in other cases that employers can expect staff not to discriminate in the discharge of duties at work.
Barrister Adam Wagner, who specialises in human rights, has tweeted that today's judgment by the European Court of Human Rights could benefit religious believers in the workplace:
Will European judgment help religious believers at work? Probably. Employers will be more careful in certain circumstances. But limited win.
One way European judgment likely to help religious believers is they no longer have to prove their belief was mandated by their religion
British Airways employee Nadia Eweida had argued the airline's denial of her wearing a cross contravened articles nine and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibit religious discrimination and allow "freedom of thought, conscience and religion".
Lawyers for the Government, which contested the claim, argued her rights were only protected in private.
But judges today ruled there had been a violation of article nine (freedom of religion), by five votes to two.
After being sent home in September 2006 for displaying the silver cross around her neck, Ms Eweida returned to work in customer services at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 in February 2007 after BA changed its uniform policy on visible items of jewellery.
Barrister Adam Wagner, who specialises in human rights, has played down the wider significance of BA worker Nadia Eweida's victory at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR):
So a narrow, fact-based win for one Christian applicant in Strasbourg but no major points of principle from Strasbourg http://t.co/cS9OphRY
Important point about judgments is that European Court of Human Rights has not criticised UK anti-discrimination laws http://t.co/cS9OphRY
European Court of Human Rights didn't rule religious symbols trumped corporate image. Wasn't convinced corporate image harmed in this case
He added that the ECHR judgment now means if an employer wants to prevent an employee from wearing a religious symbol for corporate image purposes, it must prove that its image has been negatively affected.
Christian cross wearers have taken their fight to wear religious symbols to Strasbourg. I'm with them this morning as they hear the result.
Cross-wearing British Airways employee Nadia Eweida, one of four Christians who say they were discriminated against in the workplace, has told Daybreak she is "very hopeful" of a win at the European Court of Human Rights, but is prepared to appeal if the judgment goes against them.
The 60-year-old check-in clerk from London said it was "very unfair" that she was prevented from wearing a visible cross necklace while at work.
Speaking ahead of the 9:00am judgment, Ms Eweida said: "I'm very hopeful of a win ... there is a saying: you get what you ask for. ... If we lose today, there is a possibilty we can appeal."
She also said some employers took advantage of those with Christian faith.
"It's a religion of love, that you turn your cheek," Ms Eweida added. "It's taken as weakness, so you're pounded on."
Judges at the European Court of Human Rights will rule today on a landmark case brought by four British Christians.
They claim they have suffered discrimination at work because of their faith.
- The four argue the actions of their employers contravened articles nine and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibit religious discrimination and allow "freedom of thought, conscience and religion"
- Government lawyers argue their rights are only protected in private
We believe any further accommodation of religious conscience in UK equality law would create a damaging hierarchy of rights, with religion at the top.
These are landmark cases and we have waited a long time to get to this point.
At stake is not only the future shape of Christian involvement in community life but the protection of important personal freedoms in a diverse society.