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Canary in the coal mine: Mounting religious restrictions in Europe

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 4:50 p.m. MST

Nadia Eweida, a BA check-in clerk, holds her cross and poses for photographers as she arrives at a TV station for an interview in London, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. British Airways discriminated against a devoutly Christian airline employee by making her remove a crucifix at work, Europe's highest court ruled Tuesday. BA check-in clerk Nadia Eweida sparked a national debate in Britain over religion in public life when she was sent home in November 2006 for refusing to comply with rules banning employees from wearing visible religious symbols.

Alastair Grant, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Our take: Earlier this month the European Court of Human rights ruled on four cases involving religious freedom in the workplace. Scholar Roger Trigg writes that in two of those cases religious freedom is taking a back seat to other rights, which could have repercussions beyond Europe.

On January 15, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights issued judgments on four cases of great significance for the cause of religious freedom. What they say could well have repercussions beyond Europe itself. The European Court operates under the Council of Europe, applying the European Convention of Human Rights in cases that are referred to it from a wide range of European countries. They include those of the European Union, but take in many others, as disparate as Russia and Turkey.

These four cases all came from the United Kingdom, and concerned the place of religion, and a religiously formed conscience, in modern European society. Two were about symbols, and were probably themselves symbolic of wider disputes about the place of religion in public life. The other two concerned the reluctance of some Christians to be involved in apparent affirmation of homosexual practices. That is a current flash point in many countries, but it is important to note that the dispute could just as easily have been about other practices abhorrent to some religious consciences. The point of principle at stake is how much importance should be given publically to religiously based principles, particularly in societies that are growing increasingly secular.

Read more about Canary in the coal mine: Mounting religious restrictions in Euro on Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

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