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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Editorial: Christian Bullies Press Their Advantage

By Terry Sanderson

The new breed of Christian activists in Britain are using tactics familiar from the religious Right in America. They’ve had several false starts, but now they’ve found the case that could be manipulated into a national scandal. Through a relentless process of lies, misrepresentation, exaggeration and dissembling they have managed to convince the country that a simple health and safety rule is, in fact, a persecutory attack on a poor, defenceless Christian lady. Nadia Eweida is no such thing. She is a conniving religious propagandist who puts the promotion of her “faith” before any other consideration. Is anyone surprised to hear that she is now being funded by evangelical religious groups in the USA?

The BA cross dispute is a masterpiece of manipulation. The churches have been ably assisted by
a right-wing newspaper (and the BBC) in misleading just about everyone in the country about the true situation. Rev Tony Kelsoe was allowed to go on Thought for the Day and call for a boycott of British Airways. Is that what this supposed “pause for reflection” has now become – a platform for clerical rabble-rousers, safe from any contradiction?
Let’s not mince words here. The Church of England is now in the hands of a crew of evangelical bully boys who will, like their cousins in America and Africa, stop at nothing to get their way. The despicable methods the bishops have used to cheat their way into the headlines are the true disgrace.

BA quite rightly asks front line staff not to wear visible jewellery. It dangles. At airport check-in, as anyone who has ever flown will know, there is a conveyor belt on which luggage has to be put. It is unlikely that Ms Eweida’s necklace would become entangled, but stranger accidents have happened. As a general rule it is best if staff using such machinery do not have things hanging from their necks. It’s a rule that has to be enforced for everyone’s sake.

If Ms Eweida is true to her faith, then she does not have to make a big show of it. She should be secure enough to know that her cross is there underneath her uniform. But no – she wants to “tell people about Jesus” – even the ones who don’t want to know. And remember, this is an international airline whose public representatives must deal with people from all cultures and all religions. BA should have the right to insist that its uniform is neutral so that there can be no misunderstandings.

Instead, we get this selfish woman insisting that she and she alone must have the right to break the health and safety rules. That her religion is more important than anything else. Haven’t we heard this somewhere before – like in the case of Shabina Begum who wanted to defy the agreed school uniform code to wear an extreme garment which she insisted was essential to her religion? In that instance, when the high court agreed with the school that she did not have a right to insist on being different, we didn’t hear the bishops beating their chests about it. Now that all seems to be different.

BA has fallen over itself to be fair to Ms Eweida. They have offered her another job away from the front line where she can wear her cross in whatever way she likes, but she won’t take it because she wants to make a point. She wants to present herself as a religious martyr. She is nothing of the sort – she is a religious activist trying to shove her religion down everyone’s throats. And the bishops of the Church of England – and those stupid MPs who signed an EDM about it and should know better – are anxious to make the most of the misunderstanding.

Bishops as examples of moral rectitude? In this instance they’re lying, cheating and should the thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

See also: A cross BA has to bear


Published Fri, 24 Nov 2006