British Christians cross over airline policy

A Catholic former UK Minister has called for a boycott of British Airways after the airline forced a staff member to take unpaid leave for her refusal to remove a necklace displaying a small silver cross.

The British national airline is also facing threats of boycotts and staff strikes, the Age reports, with nearly 400 staff members signing a petition in support of Nadia Eweida.

British Airways policy does not permit a cross to be visible, but allows Muslims and Sikhs to wear turbans, the hijab and religious bangles because, the airline says, they cannot be concealed.

Politicians have also backed Ms Eweida, with some describing the airline policy "loopy", "crazy" and pandering to political correctness.

Former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe, a Catholic, has been so incensed that she is urging other Christians to join her in a mass boycott. She said that unless British Airways immediately reinstated Ms Eweida, she would cut up her executive club card and lead a boycott, hoping to inflict damage on the national carrier.

Ms Eweida had worn the cross many times, but it became an issue after she attended a British Airways diversity training course, learning to be sensitive to various cultures, religions and political allegiances. The next day she was told she must remove her cross and her protests were dismissed.

The Sydney Morning Herald comments that religious sensitivities in Britain have been heightened by an ongoing controversy over Muslim practices such as the wearing of the veil.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Herald reports that while members of the NSW Police force need to make special applications to wear religious garb, it has not been an issue for teachers, and local airline employees can do as they like.

Charlie Waddy, who emerged from evening mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney last night wearing, as always, a silver locket engraved with the Virgin Mary, told the Herald he would be offended if ever he was asked to take it off.

"It's not outrageous jewellery, it's a symbol of faith," Mr Waddy said. "It's like being asked to remove your wedding ring."

Qantas, a partner airline to British Airways, declared it had "no issue" with its employees wearing religious attire.

"We only require that employees maintain a standard of appearance appropriate to their work environment and the work they perform," a spokeswoman said.

Virgin airlines admitted it did have uniform regulations that included no necklaces, but staff were allowed to wear bracelets with "a charm of their choice ... be it a religious cross, a love heart or a tinkerbell".

Whether veils or turbans would be allowed was unclear because the issue had never arisen, a spokeswoman said.

NSW police must apply to their head of command if they want to wear crucifixes, a hijab or turbans, and the request is forwarded to the Uniform Standards Committee.

So far, only one person has made such an application - for a turban - and it was approved, the Herald says.

Airline's cross ban sparks row (The Age, 17/10/06)
It's a sign of the times: what we wear can trigger an unholy row (Sydney Morning Herald, 17/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
British Airways (Corporate)

Celtic footballer convicted for crossing Rangers fans (CathNews 28/8/06)
Hong Kong residents cannot bear cross (CathNews 24/7/06)
Catholic chaplains affected by French veil law (CathNews 8/10/04)
Cardinal says French headscarf ban 'unenforceable' (CathNews 12/2/04)
Perth archbishop backs Premier's stand on religious freedom (CathNews 19/12/03)

17 Oct 2006