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Crucifix nurse loses tribunal claim

A Christian nurse who lost a discrimination claim against her employer over her right to wear a crucifix has claimed the tribunal's decision marks "a very bad day for Christianity".

An employment tribunal ruled in favour of the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital over a claim by nurse Shirley Chaplin that being asked to remove a necklace bearing a crucifix would "violate her faith".

Mrs Chaplin was then moved to a desk job in order to comply with the trust's health and safety policy which viewed necklaces of any sort as a potential hazard which could be grabbed by patients.

Mrs Chaplin, who wore the emblem at the tribunal hearing in Exeter, said she would stand by her convictions irrespective of the decision and continue to wear the crucifix.

"I wouldn't have gone this far if I was prepared to take it off," she said, adding that it was "a very bad day for Christianity".

It emerged that Mrs Chaplin had worn the emblem for 30 years throughout her career. When asked about her intentions for the future, she said: "I don't know. I wait to find out - but I will be going to work tomorrow."

Following the ruling, a hospital spokesman said the trust had acted in a "sensitive and appropriate" manner to deal with the issue.

"At all times the trust has given the safety of staff and patients paramount importance. We are pleased that the panel agreed with this view and confirmed the actions we have taken to attempt to resolve this issue have been fair and reasonable and recognises the strenuous efforts that have been made to find a solution."

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

It is a very sad day for Christians and our country, as it deem to be a Christian country but unable to practise its faith however all other faiths can have their freedom to express their faith. I think 'Health and Safety' has gone mad, freedom of choice is there for other faith other than a Christian. Don't you think that its time we STAND UP for what we believing in and be proud of it!! Just out of curiosity, are the managers of that trust who make the decision anti christian or just plain ignorant?" - A Smith, Essex

"30 years ago there was a ruling which stated that nurses did not wear jewellery on duty so I am surprised that no one put that to Mrs Chapman. From the pictures I have seen the cross could injure a patient and is a real source of cross infection. Also the danger to herself if a patient grabbed the chain. I am a Catholic retired nurse who takes my faith very seriously. I would never dream of wearing a cross and chain on duty. I did however carry a tiny gilt cross in my pocket for many years. I never felt the desire to show this. In the Daily Express of April 13th Ross Clark has set out the new guidelines issued on Monday 12th by the Department of Health. This states that Muslims and Sikhs can wear what they like and are now bowing to pressure for long sleeves to be worn. This is definitely a two-sided argument one for Christians and the other for other faiths. As a Christian country we should make it clear to immigrants that we have standards which must be maintained at all times and if they do not like our rules they should not come to Britain" - Nora McCarthy

"Are scarves, turbans and beard nets health, safety or infection control issues? I remember a day about 40 years ago when the turban became unravelled during an operative procedure in theatre... we did not bother then - we kept all areas spotless and assumed surgeons also maintained themselves, even when I got the mask and beard net tangled up..!" - JA, Scotland

"While I do not agree that a person has to wear a cross as a Christian, I would say that the attitude towards Christians is that you can object to their beliefs and be insulting and get away with it, whereas that would not happen with other faiths or with humanists etc. It seems that you are allowed an opinion in this country, and freedom to demonstrate this, unless you are a Christian. Do people realise the huge benefits of the influence of Christianity on this country - I think not!  If this country continues to discredit Christians and Christianity then it is heading for big problems. Wait and see" - Jenny Cole, Cardiff

"Does this mean I can no longer wear my glasses in case some one pulls them off!! If she cannot wear her religious emblem then this should apply to all religions" - L Rogers, Manchester

"A person's religious beliefs should be respected at all times by all members of a community. But they are just that, personal beliefs. If there is no specific scripture of that faith that dictates the wearing of a crucifix, for example, then this is purely optional and should not be used by an individual to indicate a religious status that is not required. Even when there is a scriptural requirement, the bigger picture of patient safety has to be paramount. I am not aware of a God that will strike down a believer for putting others first" - Mrs Western, Devon

"This case is not about trust or health and safety policies. I think this is about political correctness and the fear of offending particular religious sections to the detriment of other religious groups, namely Christians. Is the trust going to apply the same rules to Muslim medical and nursing staff when it comes to wearing long sleeves in the clinical environment that carries a significant risk in terms of the transmission of infection? Perhaps infection prevention and control is area that they should focus their attention firmly on and not worrying about a short neck chain with a crucifix which is unlikely to pose any real health and safety risk. Secondly, is the trust also going to stipulate that certain categories of staff should not be permitted to wear their religious costume in whatever form that takes, which is a clear demonstration of their faith and religion? Why it is that Christians do not have the same rights to demonstrate their faith whether or not it is by choice or stipulated by a religious organisation? If the trust or society is proposing a religious free work environment, them there must be no hint of religion either in dress or the weaning of jewelry and must apply to all. There is no longer in this country religious freedom to express one's faith for those who call themselves Christians" - James B, London

"D Taylor of Cheltenham I have a feeling that if you were approached in hospital by a hijab wearing Dr or nurse you probably would not say a word about religious symbols in your face. You are criticizing a very easy target. Many contributors state that while a wedding ring is above health and safety/uniform policy/infection control wearing a cross is not acceptable. Please could someone explain the difference ... without sentiment?" - Name and address supplied

"I think that the wearing of any jewellery, which the crucifix is, should not be worn when when in uniform. I do think this is part of a wider issue on uniform and a lack of professionalism that is seen amongst many nurses. I know it sounds old-fashioned but jewellery, obvious make up, loose hair, and shoddy appearance should be an anathema in a profession such as ours" - Susan Low

"Firstly if I may answer the seeming lack of awareness of some contributors and possibly some prejudice/lack of tolerance. Mr Guilliano is sure that the Bible does not say there is a need to proclaim your faith publicly. That is not correct, it clearly does state that they should and in many verses and is at the heart of the New Testament gospel. D Taylor does not want religious symbols in his face, and that people should keep their religion at home (whether this sentiment is made equally forcefully and attributed to all other religions which now include atheists and humanism as religions is not clear in the statement; which is very significant for such an argument); however, from my personal experience there is a big difference to wearing a religious symbol as part of a person's faith, and those who seek to crush those of that faith, and to offend them. In hospitals, in the workplace and in the street (clearly not in the home), for those who are Christian and live by his teaching, they are subjected to complete disrespect, as people use the names they revere Christ/God as profanities and yet that seems accepted and OK" - J Cole, Cardiff

"I am sure I would be asked to remove my football (some people's 'religion') scarf if I wore it to work as it would pose a risk of infection/breach health and safety regulations. So if people are saying that this lady should remove her necklace for the same reasons then all accessories additional to uniforms should be banned including 'religious' headscarves which drape over patients" - Sara, Lancs

"I think this nurse has turned this into a bit of an issue, of course it is now considered unprofessional to wear jewellery of any type with the exception of a wedding ring, for very good reasons. I would not object to a small crucifix pin on the lapel personally - because we have to put up with Muslim nurses wearing full head scarves, and I know of some patients who have objected to this - but judgments have to be across the board, and religion should be kept out of the workplace" - Name and address supplied

"Health and safety issues surrounding this incident should prevail. Wearing an emblem of Christianity does not make you a better Christian and not everyone is interested in religion. Drama over a simple...'you either take it off or your sacked for breaching health and safety rules'!" - Anne McCormack, Scottish Borders

"I just believe there is a bit of fanaticism involved in this issue of crucifix wearing. What really matters is our acts of love and care as Christians towards fellow men/women and most especially our patients. Wearing the crucifix has nothing to do with our genuine and sincere relationship with God. It does not even make us a better Christian than others in the faith. Rather, our disobedience to authority shows our pure ignorance of the Biblical principles that guides the Christian faith.There is a time for everything. God looks at our hearts. The outward look can be deceptive" - Roseline Bella, London

"I trained in 1987 - no hair down, no necklaces, no earrings other than a pair of studs, short nails with no varnish. Have to say infection rates seemed to be lower then. A crucifix does not have to be worn around the neck it could have been pinned inside the uniform. Should we not be putting our patient safety first?" - Sally, Essex

"I am a Christian nurse and I wear a pin on crucifix because I think it is NOT in your face but if anyone feels a Christian view would help them then I am available. If patients/staff/public do not have a belief then the pin is no different to a registration badge which most nurses wear with pride and should not be offensive. I would rather wear my cross as a testament of faith and approachability than go around shouting halleluja all the time (which would be in your face)" - Liz, Leicester

"If the hospital is going to object to a crucifix then they should also object to all jewellery, pens, scissors, so is the same conditions being applied to all people in the hospital in this regard or is this one particular nurse being singled out? The Bible does tell us to proclaim our faith as Christians and those that think otherwise need to remember that nursing like many other professions actually has historical roots within Christianity" - Louise Baker

"I recently completed my dissertation looking at this very subject (spirituality and healthcare). I feel that the response to his case is unfair and unjust and has religious discrimination attached to it. It is as if to say, let's make an example of a Christian, seeing that Muslims often make the headlines, so that the scales are balanced. We have forgotten that nursing has it roots in Christianity and research is now indicating that there are strong links between health and faith/spirituality. What is happening to this nation? Has religion become a disease? Are those who are sitting in their lofty towers making policies identifying the distinction between religion and spirituality? Have these idiots gone mad? For the sake of rationality and sense please think long and hard about the implications of such tribunals on the health service. It is not only a sad day for Christianity but for all faiths and the health service. I urge these policy makers to conduct a survey on how many healthcare workers in  the NHS are there because of their spirituality and how many hold to a faith that is active. I think that these policy makers will be surprised at the staggering figures. We have failed to to understand spirituality and to ignore this aspect of human need is to fail in providing holistic care" - Nadia Halley, Essex

"As Mrs Chapman has said - 'this is a very bad day for Christianity'. Sadly, in this country, no longer is there freedom of expression of faith. We should not forget that nursing has its roots firmly planted in Christianity. In fact the term hospital is derived from the religious orders who were hospitable to those who fell sick on the wayside and cared for them. I fail to see how wearing a small crucifix and chain can be a safety hazard or how it could offend non-believers" - Keith Cutting, London

"I believe policies are in place for a reason, and if you bend the rules to please one person, where do you stop at pleasing everyone else. I have my faith and my beliefs, but I don't need a necklace on show to prove anything and I certainly don't believe that anyone has the right or authority to push or flaunt their beliefs upon anyone else!" - L Reid, N Ireland

"Watches, rings and necklaces, all jewellery is an infection control issue. You cannot put people at risk regardless of any religion/beliefs. If you truly believe in your faith you do not need trinkets to prove it" - Sue Cain, Wiltshire

"I am a Christian, the Bible says we should not be afraid to publicly proclaim our faith. I don't hear anyone saying a Sikh or Muslim should change their style of dress and 'keep their religion at home'. I am married but leave my wedding band at home when performing clinical duties. It doesn't make me any less married. More importantly the question we should be addressing is did this necklace put her or her patient's at risk - she wore it for 30 years without incident. We are, however, living in an age where the risk of getting an injury is much greater and this risk was assessed and found to be high. This wasn't about faith, this was purely a health and safety issue and I agree with Yvonne that there are other dangerous objects which need to be addressed" - Wendy Watson-Teague, Wolverhampton

"The nurse should realise that there is not only a risk of injury to/from a patient but more importantly there is an infection control hazard here, and she is lucky to have 'got away' with wearing a necklace for so very long - and wherever you go in the caring profession the wearing of jewellery is - by those hospitals that are serious about infection control issues - NOT allowed. The exception being wedding bands. The violation of this lady's religious rights is a spurious claim, in my opinion - I feel sorry that she has missed the point here" - MLE Wood, West Midlands

"The patient cared for holistically should be a reflection of the values Christ espoused. This lady really ought not to worry so much about a piece of jewellery: she can carry it in her uniform pocket and wear it when out of uniform. This is on the basis of a health and safety concern only and is nothing personal. What makes it more difficult for many is that Moslems are allowed to wear their heads covered when in uniform, which is their outward sign, but that in itself is not a health and safety risk so there is no issue of inequality there" - Lyndsey, Scotland

"Policies are in place to protect the patient/practitioner by making the practitioner accountable. Therefore, I agree that jewellery should not be worn in clinical settings for this very reason. However, it all seems like a big drama about nothing.  Perhaps the trust would serve the public better by addressing the real dangers such as scissors/pens hanging out of uniform breast pockets etc before a patient gets a serious or even fatal injury" - Yvonne, Ayrshire

"I don't think wearing a crucifix reinforces your faith. By the same token I believe that not wearing one violates your faith. One can believe what he or she wishes and there is simply no need to push it in everyone else's faces. I'm quite sure the Bible says there is no need to proclaim your faith publicly. For those that do not believe there is a supreme deity this would be akin to someone insisting on wearing a necklace associated with The Lord of The Rings...pure fantasy fiction and unnecessary!" - Trevor Guilliano, Gibraltar

"I do not want religious symbols in my face if I am in hospital. As a patient I would object to a crucifix even if pinned (for safety reasons) to the uniform rather than around the neck of the nurse. The trust appear to have tried to compromise far too far anyway. The nurse's remarks just leave me shaking my head. Keep your religion at home" - D Taylor, Cheltenham