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British Airways backs down over employees’ crucifix ban

The British Airways check-in counter clerk who has been on unpaid leave since her employer told her in September she could not wear a cross on a chain around her neck outside her uniform is to return to work wearing the emblem of her Christian faith.

The airline has backed down on its policy of not allowing workers to wear visible symbols of Christianity, while permitting Muslim hijabs and Sikh turbans, after a storm of protest from religious leaders and politicians as well as investors and customers threatening boycotts.

The decision will allow Nadia Eweida to return to work on 1 February and was welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the second ranking Anglican bishop in the Church of England.

They said in a joint statement: "BA has finally shown both grace and magnanimity in this change of policy so as to enable their Christian employees to display their commitment to their faith … Nadia Edweida’s courage and commitment to her Lord is a challenge to us all that love and loyalty to Christ conquers in the end."

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said in a statement posted on the airline Web site on 19 January that staff had been consulted on the matter and the majority felt that a lapel pin would be a reasonable option, although some believed it would not satisfy all Christians.

"Comparisons were made between the wearing of a cross around the neck and the wearing hijabs, turbans and Sikh bracelets. For this reason, we have decided to allow some flexibility for individuals to wear a symbol of faith on a chain," Walsh added.

The company had previously insisted that religious symbols should be worn underneath uniforms. However, it allowed the wearing of turbans and hijabs, as it said it was not practical to conceal these items.

Eweida, aged 55, had refused the offer of a non-uniform job at Heathrow Airport where she worked. She said it was a matter of principle and she maintained her right to wear the cross, which measures a centimetre in diameter.

A BA spokesperson said: "The decision follows a comprehensive review of the airline’s uniform policy and extensive consultation with a wide range of religious groups including the representatives of the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the Muslim Council of Britain."

(c) Ecumenical News International