Removing cross would violate my faith, says nurse

A Christian nurse moved to an office role after refusing to remove a necklace bearing a crucifix told an employment tribunal today that taking it off would "violate her faith".

Shirley Chaplin, 54, claims discrimination on the part of the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital, saying it tried to prevent her from expressing religious beliefs.

The trust says the policy was nothing to do with the crucifix specifically, but motivated by health and safety concerns about patients grabbing necklaces.

In a 71-point statement today Mrs Chaplin, who wore the crucifix to the tribunal in her home city of Exeter, said she was "personally convicted" to wear the emblem, given to her as a confirmation gift in 1971.

In one of the points, she said: "I have been a nurse for roughly 30 years and throughout that time I have worn my crucifix. The crucifix is an exceptionally important expression of my faith and my belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. To deliberately remove or hide my crucifix or to treat it disrespectfully would violate my faith."

There are at least four reasons why it is so important, she told the tribunal. Firstly, to remind her of Jesus dying on the cross to remove her sins.

Secondly, she said, "wearing the cross identifies me with Jesus and physically 'taking up my cross' by wearing it around my neck helps me to live the life Jesus wanted, by denying myself and following him".

Third, it is part of her identity, and fourth it is a "motivation", and wearing the cross visibly, rather than hiding it beneath clothes, "creates my accountability in my Christian lifestyle".

Mrs Chaplin was appointed in 1994 and promoted to an E-grade nurse in 2001, the court heard.

Asked if she thought health and safety issues are a reasonable excuse to remove jewellery, she said they "might be".

Six bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a letter to the Sunday Telegraph attacking the "apparent discrimination" against churchgoers.

They said Mrs Chaplin's example was "yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect".