So there it is – British Airways employee, Ms Eweida wins a heavily-qualified right to manifest her Christianity at work in limited circumstances. All her co-appellants to the ECJ fail in similar claims.
Do see our other post today for a little legal analysis on this, but in the meantime, where does the decision take us in practice? In a perfect world, nowhere, because in a perfect world, no-one would give a damn about some tiny crucifix, crescent, Star of David or other religious symbol worn by another. But this is not a perfect world and we see on the news every day examples of bigotry and intolerance between faiths.
Every religion has its fundamentalist nutcase wing, people to whom the ECJ’s approach of carefully balancing the interests of employer and employee will mean nothing. In theory, therefore, this decision spreads the risk of religious dispute further into the workforce and opens the door to increased numbers of grievances and claims based on the manifestation of one’s faith at work. Ms Eweida’s crucifix was widely reported as being the size of a 5p piece (18mm across) and by the standards of these things, quite tasteful. But what if it had been the size of a £2 coin (29mm) or some huge gaudy Posh-and-Becks bling thing? What is the point at which an employer is entitled to say safely that this piece of religious imagery is consistent with its corporate image while that one is not? Where does “manifest” slip over into “flaunt” or “push in others’ faces”? What if one employee claims that another’s sporting of some overtly religious symbol offends his own faith’s sensibilities, and so on?
However, the reality is that the vast majority of employers already accept Eweida-type crosses, etc., without a second thought, and that nothing bad tends to happen as a result. This is a case relevant only to the small number of employers with very strict dress-codes and the even smaller number of employees who feel not just able but obliged to let others know of their religious beliefs. You can take whatever points of principle you want out of this decision, but in practice (other than for Daily Express readers, it is to be anticipated) it is a not very big storm in a very little teacup.