In a hospital where Muslim doctors wear headscarves for their religious faith, a Christian nurse was "forced to choose between her job and her faith" after being ordered to remove her crucifix.
Nurse Shirley Chaplin, 54, said she had been wearing the crucifix around her neck for 31 years without any complaints before being ordered to remove it in the summer of 2009.
After refusing to comply, pointing out that two women doctors were allowed to wear headscarves, she was moved to a desk job.
Yesterday was the first day she went before the employment tribunal, claiming religious discrimination. Her case is backed by the Christian Legal Centre, which says her treatment is a 'symptom of increasing discrimination against Christians'.
Chaplin's case is causing an uproar among Christian support groups, who say their religious beliefs are not being given the same respect as other faiths. Over the weekend, her case against the National Health Service (NHS) was backed by seven senior Anglican bishops who issued a national letter of support.
Chaplin is planning to retire later this year, but is hoping her case will force the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in England to change its policy so staff can have the option of openly wearing crucifixes.
'The hospital says she was asked to remove the necklace after a risk assessment showed it could be pulled by one of the patients in her care. They insist it is a health and safety issue and that the problem is not with the crucifix but the necklace it is attached to.'Chaplin said: 'I identified two female Muslim doctors permitted to wear a headscarf, which raises more profound health and safety issues.’
Chaplin told her superiors that she would wear the cross pinned to her uniform, to remove the ‘risk’ of the chain. When her superiors refused to allow even that, Chaplin said it confirmed her suspicion that ‘they simply wanted to remove the visibility of the crucifix’.
In a series of meetings Mrs Chaplin was later called to, she pointed out that the hospital’s in-house literature showed staff wearing necklaces. The hospital then moved her to a non-clinical, desk job in September under threat of disciplinary action.
'In a letter to a Sunday newspaper, seven bishops including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey, said the case was a further example of discrimination against their faith and demanded the Government take action to protect Christians.'