PM Urges Christianity but has his ministers remove the right to wear Crosses at work
Betrayal of the Crucifix: As PM urges support of Christianity, his own Minister tells Europe Britons do not have right to wear cross at work
By Steve Doughty and Jack Doyle
PUBLISHED: 22:23, 5 April 2012 | UPDATED: 12:01, 6 April 2012
David Cameron’s promise of a fightback against the assault on Christianity was sabotaged yesterday by his own ministers who declared that Christians have no right to wear a cross at work.
The Home Office said that any Christian who does not like it should find another job.
The ministerial line on the right of a worker to display a token of faith was laid down in a statement to European human rights judges. It gives the Government’s opinion in a key test case.
The document, prepared under the supervision of Lib Dem Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone and approved by Home Secretary Theresa May, says Christians must be content to keep their religion for their own time.
Those who are unwilling to do so are ‘free to resign and seek employment elsewhere’.
The blunt rejection of the rights of Christians was disclosed two days after David Cameron said he believes that a ‘Christian fightback’ is under way against attempts to ban the wearing of crosses and crucifixes.
Mr Cameron told a gathering of Christian leaders that ‘the values of Christianity are the values that we need’ and Downing Street said ‘the Prime Minister has made it clear that his view is that people should be able to wear crosses.’
Yesterday the Home Office amended that and said: ‘People should be able to wear crosses. The law allows for this, and employers are generally very good at being reasonable in accommodating people’s religious beliefs.’
The apparent gap between the Prime Minister’s assurances to religious leaders and the Government’s denial of Christian rights in Strasbourg provoked fury among senior churchmen yesterday.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said: ‘David Cameron’s warm words about Christianity need to be matched by action.
‘There is a clear contradiction between his expressions of support for faith and his Government’s submission to the European Court.
‘We need some joined-up thinking if Christian believers are to have any confidence in the fairness of his Government.’
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams was said to be unavailable when the Daily Mail approached him for comment.
When he announced his resignation last month, he said that there is ‘a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity, which sometimes clouds the discussion’.
The Government’s opinion was delivered to the European Court of Human Rights in the test case involving British Airways worker Nadia Eweida and nurse Shirley Chaplin which is shortly to be considered by the Strasbourg court.
Both women have been told by English judges that they have no right to wear a cross at work.
Mrs Eweida, a check-in clerk, was suspended in 2006 after refusing instructions to take off the cross she wore with her uniform. BA backed down after its ban provoked widespread condemnation.
However Mrs Eweida lost in the Appeal Court when she tried to establish a legal right to wear the cross.
Mrs Chaplin was barred from working on the wards of her hospital in Exeter after she refused to remove or hide the cross she wore on her necklace chain. She lost an employment tribunal case over the ban.
The Government submission to Strasbourg said that wearing a cross is ‘not a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith’.
It said ‘the applicants’ claim of discrimination is manifestly ill-founded’ and said that the legal rights of Christians were satisfied ‘where the individual in question is free to resign and seek employment elsewhere or practise their religion unfettered outside their employment’.
Barrister Andrea Minichiello Williams, who runs the Christian Legal Centre which is backing Mrs Chaplin’s case in Strasbourg, said: ‘The Prime Minister’s words of support for Christians this week are empty and hollow unless he translates them into actions which support and protect Christians who find themselves increasingly marginalised in the public sphere.’
The achingly right-on ‘Equalities Minister’ Ms Featherstone is so lightweight even some in her party dub her Lynne Featherbrain
Lightweight: Lynne ‘Featherstone is by some distance the Coalition Government’s weakest link. Television quiz show piranha Anne Robinson would make very, very short work of her’
By Quentin Letts
Lynne Featherstone is no Einstein. To say the Equalities Minister is of average parliamentary intelligence might be stretching the evidence. Even her colleagues in the Liberal Democrat party call her ‘Lynne Featherbrain’.
When she speaks in the Commons, Lib Dems shield their eyes like children watching a frightening moment in TV’s Dr Who.
Sometimes they discreetly leave the Chamber rather than endure the agony of witnessing another ‘Featherbrain’ disaster. Those who remain tend to draw sympathetic smiles to their lips, while inwardly churning with despair.
For those of us in the sketch-writing business, mind you, Lynne Featherstone is a honeypot. Though aged 60 (and counting), she teeters up to the Despatch Box in high heels, grinning girlishly at the Opposition benches before hesitantly lisping a few opening apologies for losing her place or some such calamity. Think of Ulrika Jonsson corpsing during one of her weather forecasts in the Eighties.
Quite often Mrs Featherstone giggles, says she did not quite catch the drift of the question or pushes her long fringe out of her smouldering eyes and gives a hapless shrug of her shoulders.
She invariably pulls at the bottom of her skimpy designer top, the better to accentuate her slinky torso. Shades of a Wonderbra advert — from the Minister for Women!
Sometimes she manages to read her Whitehall brief without stumbling. When it comes to producing extempore justifications for Government policy, however, her little card house collapses.
She is by some distance the Coalition Government’s weakest link. Television quiz show piranha Anne Robinson would make very, very short work of her.
It may, therefore, be regarded as a misfortune for the Government that this gum-brained specimen, this most palpable parliamentary dingbat, is the officer in charge of two hot political controversies (gay marriage and the right of Christians to wear a cross at work), which has put her at loggerheads with the Anglican and Catholic Churches.
In this confrontation, she resembles a nocturnal nudist caught in the headlights of a speeding lorry — part-comical, part agonising, likely to end in a squeal of brakes and nasty bruises.
Mrs Featherstone is in an intellectual muddle, though she does not seem to know it. Well, there’s a surprise! On gay marriage, the divorced mother of two presents herself as the champion of tolerance. Yet on the wearing of crosses, she is completely the opposite — so intolerant that she is using Government lawyers to fight her corner.
As the Mail discloses today, the latest legal document dispatched by her ministry dares to state crosses aren’t even part of Christian observance — and that if anyone wants to wear a cross at work where they are outlawed, well, tough, they can simply find another job. Not even Norman Tebbit in his heyday was that blunt.
The case is part of the Government’s fight in the European Court of Human Rights arguing against the right of Christians to wear a cross at work.
Disclosure: The latest legal document dispatched by Ms Featherstone’s ministry dares to state that crosses aren’t even part of Christian observance. The case is part of the Government’s fight in the European Court of Human Rights
It involves two cases: a British Airways check-in assistant who was suspended after refusing to remove her small cross; and a nurse from Exeter who was not allowed to work on hospital wards unless she took off the cross she wore on a necklace.
In opposing these church-going women, Mrs Featherstone is going to the European Court of Human Rights (one of her favourite outfits) to argue against, of all bodies, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (another of her pet state organisations for which she has ministerial responsibility). The Commission, run by her old and very good friend Trevor Phillips, is supporting the rights of Christians.
What a tangle. Government minister fights state quango in a foreign court that we help to fund. British taxpayers are being stiffed at each and every expensive turn of the saga. And all concerning an invented controversy over tiny crosses that offend no one.
So who is this ‘Featherbrain’? Who created this embarrassment? Why is she still a minister? Though she was born in 1951, some feel she looks younger. Some might attribute her youthfulness to natural bounce or the redeeming qualities of whatever seaweed-yoghurty unguent the intensely fashion-conscious Lynne slaps on her pelt of an evening before retiring to her candle-scented lair.
She has long burnished as much loving care on her bones as the owner of a vintage Lagonda applies to his roadster’s bodywork. She has another nickname, ‘Dorian’, because she is so similar to the ageing vamp of that name (played by Lesley Joseph) in the TV sitcom Birds Of A Feather.
You may say: ‘Good for her, looking after herself.’ I wouldn’t disagree, were it not for the fact that Mrs Featherstone is a great opponent of image-consciousness. She has made this one of her political themes, campaigning against society’s ‘sexism’ over the way it views woman.
She has been disparaging about supermodel Kate Moss and others when they have urged girls to diet — yet she admits she has been a lifelong fighter of the flab. She is a voluble critic of the body-image pressure created by advertising images and she has inveighed against Page 3 girls and all that sort of jazz. Yet in a recent interview with the Guardian, Mrs Featherstone said she ‘wouldn’t really have a problem’ with women having cosmetic surgery to give their sagging breasts a lift after having five children. Make your mind up, minister.
Concerned: Mr Clegg’s inner circle have at times despaired that Mrs Featherstone is ‘not up to the job’ of keeping a Lib Dem eye on Tory policymakers
Mrs Featherstone, who is of Jewish stock and whose family made its fortune from the Ryness electrical shops, is Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, a London seat previously held by an able (but unglamorous) Labour minister, Barbara Roche.
Mrs Featherstone’s 7,000 majority is testament to her skill as a local campaigner. She is regarded as a ‘good constituency MP’. But ‘good constituency MPs’ do not always, or often, make good ministers.
She owes her ministerial job officially to Nick Clegg, who had responsibility for picking the Lib Dem ministers once the Coalition was formed in 2010.
She and Mr Clegg are not particularly close, though. One hears that the Deputy PM views her as a liability and regrets not giving the job to someone with a bit less cotton-wool between her ears. Mrs Featherstone supported Chris Huhne in the Lib Dem leadership election, running his campaign. With such an intellect in command of his push for votes, it is perhaps no wonder the poor chap lost.
Now that Mr Huhne is out of Government (while he fights motoring offence charges), Mrs Featherstone may be vulnerable.
There are many Lib Dem MPs who think they could do the job better than her. Her stance on Christianity, while classically metropolitan, is unlikely to endear her to David Cameron in the week he spoke of a ‘Christian fightback’.
A s Equalities Minister she does not have the most exacting portfolio in Government. The Equalities Office is a satrap of the Home Office and Mrs Featherstone’s Secretary of State is Theresa May.
The two have little in common. Mrs May is assiduously technical, dry, often exhausted, but stoical. Mrs Featherstone floats round like a puff of cloud, sweet-tweety-pie to everyone, hopeless at detail.
Mr Clegg’s inner circle have at times despaired that Mrs Featherstone is ‘not up to the job’ of keeping a Lib Dem eye on Tory policymakers at the Home Office. Recently, a Lib Dem special adviser, Verity Harding, was dispatched there, presumably to shore up Mrs Featherstone.
Her handling of the gay weddings controversy has been clumsy. Asserting her determination to have gay marriage on the statute book by 2015, she has attacked Church leaders for fanning ‘the flames of homophobia’ in the way some of them have opposed gay marriage. She went out of her way to proclaim her ‘liberalism’ and to deplore the ‘inflammatory language’ of bishops.
Speaking as one who happens to be relaxed about gay marriage, I would respectfully suggest that the ‘flame-fanning’ may have been done by the Government in coming up with this policy in the first place.
Perhaps that was the whole point of it, strategically, for the Coalition. Perhaps the Government intended to provoke a reaction from the Churches. That would ratchet up the controversy — and show opinion-formers at the BBC and in the Left-wing Press how ‘go-ahead’ and liberal the Government is.
A charitable reading of Lynne Featherstone might be that simply by occupying that berth at the Home Office, she helps to remind the voters, albeit in a daffy way, that this Government is a Centrist enterprise and not some extreme Tory regime.
But with tame Christians being tormented by the Government machine, there surely comes a time when the Featherstone joke has gone far enough. David Cameron and Nick Clegg must surely realise that the presence of such a lame performer in their junior ranks brings discredit to Parliament and makes Her Majesty’s Government look foolish.