1. Skip to content

National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

BA needs defending from religious zealots, not the other way round

After being bullied into changing its uniform policy to suit Christian activist Nadia Eweida, British Airways has now fallen foul of another religious zealot, as an orthodox Jewish man claims the company is “forcing” him to work on Saturday, the “holy day” for Jews.

Customer service agent Daniel Rosenthal claims he was disciplined by the airline when he failed to turn up for work on a Saturday. In a case that echoes aspects of the Eweida incident, Mr Rosenthal says he has been forced to use annual leave days and had to offer to work New Year's Eve as a trade-off. He said BA had given him permission to have Saturdays off through unpaid leave and rostering for the first 18 months that he worked at the airport as a baggage processor. But then he was transferred to the passenger services unit after which he claims the company demanded he work on Saturday.

On the first Saturday he was due to work, he stayed at home as a direct challenge to the airline’s policy.

Despite BA practice being to discipline staff after two “no shows”, Mr Rosenthal said he was dealt with immediately after his first absence. “I feel I have been a victim of religious discrimination and I feel that the airline has pulled the carpet from beneath my feet and not allowed me to practice what I believe and stand for. There is no further grace period with Saturdays. My objective is not to be treated unfavourably on the grounds of my religion.”

Without knowledge of the full facts, religious figures immediately sprang to Mr Rosenthal’s defence. They claimed to be defending “religious freedom”. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, was first on the scene: “I am very sad that British Airways is taking this attitude. Jews are a significant and welcome section of British society. The Sabbath means far more to Jews than Sunday means for the Christian. It seems that BA has learned nothing from the criticism it received following its treatment of the Christian who was disciplined for wearing a cross. If BA cannot find ways to be inclusive, it will not reflect the values of Britishness that our nation is noted for,” he said.

London Beth Din (a religious court of judgment) also came out in support of Mr Rosenthal and criticised BA.

But it is clear that BA has done everything it can to accommodate Mr Rosenthal, although it is also clear that, just like Nadia Eweida, Mr Rosenthal is on a mission to get BA to give his religion special privilege.

Meanwhile, an employment tribunal last week dismissed all claims of discrimination against Nadia Eweida. This seems strange having read media reports of the case, which presented Ms Eweida as a victim of religious discrimination because she was “banned” from wearing a small cross at work.

The judgment of the Employment Tribunal paints a very different picture. It reveals Ms Eweida to be a blinkered and intransigent woman who is wont to fling wild accusations at her employer and her colleagues without any evidence and without regard for the consequences.

She suffered absolutely no discrimination — as the employment panel found — and BA jumped through hoops to try and accommodate her many, many demands.

Nadia Eweida was the nightmare worker that any company would dread. Constantly complaining, demanding privileges, accusing co-workers of things that the tribunal said were impossible to substantiate, and pushing her religion on to her colleagues very much against their wishes. You can read my assessment of this case in the Guardian’s Comment is free

But the full story has not been told about this case and it should be. And now the media is set to pull the wool over our eyes again with this latest case.

Just reserve your sympathy for BA, which seems to be under sustained attack from religious zealots.
See also: Row as Muslim shop worker refuses to sell “unclean” Bible book


Published Fri, 18 Jan 2008