Monday, March 19, 2012

Crosser and Crosser

The tensions between the sacred and the secular seem to be growing of late. Many Christians feel that there is some anti-Christian sentiment in the British Government evidenced by the latest kerfuffle over whether the wearing of the Cross is a genuine and necessary expression of faith in the same way as the turban for the Sikh and the Burkha for the Moslem. The Government seems to be arguing that because the Cross is not an obligatory item of apparel that it is reasonable for an employer to demand that it be removed.

I've been asked to consider the issue carefully and produce a few thoughts which I may try to crystallise later. As an exercise in thought, I’m going to try to proceed scholastically here.I apologise unreservedly in advance to the Angelic Doctor for mangling his style so hideously.

The question is: Has an employer the right to demand an employee to remove their cross?

Objection 1: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it is not a requirement of the faith to wear one.

Objection 2: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it now only holds decorative value. Many people who wear crosses are not Christian.

Objection 3: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as claiming religious reasons for defying an injunction would set a precedent for other employees wearing inappropriate articles under the pretext of religious belief.

Objection 4: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it may cause an accident or prove unhygienic.

Objection 5: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it may cause offence to those who oppose Christianity.

Objection 6: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it may upset an environment that requires a certain amount of religious neutrality.

On the contrary : Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. St Matthew xvi.24

I answer that: While it is true that there is no obligation for many Christians to wear the cross, this is not true for all Christians. The Orthodox Church presents a cross to the newly baptised with the expectation that it be worn constantly as a reminder to that person of their faith, The Cross is of central importance to Christians who are reminded of the willing sufferings of Christ on our behalf.

The cross has always been a sign of controversy. At the outset, it was simply a gibbet, an instrument of execution. That the fact that the Christians adopted it as one of their symbols, amused, bemused and even scandalised the Romans and others who saw the sign as somehow subversive. Of course, it was a sign hated by the Moslems during some terrible times during the crusades. However, in the U.K. the cross has always been associated with the religion of the land, namely Christianity. While, the U.K. can and should welcome all of every faith and none into its society, it cannot change the past in which the central sign of the cross remains iconic: Charing Cross Hospital, the Red Cross, King’s Cross station, the Union flag comprised of the three crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick.

These are part of our national identity as well as our religious identity. For many Christians, the religious identity is of greater importance.

The question of the rights of an employer cannot be separated from their responsibilities. If the employer has the right to ask an employee who sincerely believes to remove that symbol of their belief then what provision will they make for that employee to feel that their belief is being resected and that their sense of identity as a sincere religious believer remains fundamentally unchanged? This question requires an answer at both the general and the particular.

Reply to Objection 1: For those who genuinely profess the Christian Faith, the wearing of the cross may indeed be a requirement. For the Orthodox Christians it is indeed a requirement. Any employer needs to recognise the needs of their employees to have the freedom to profess
their faith as part of their intrinsic identity.

Reply to Objection 2: That non-Christians wear crosses means that they will have no objection to removing them. For the Christian, the fact that they do object to removing a cross, is sign that they have a genuine belief unless they demonstrate otherwise. An employer needs to understand the objections of their employee and act with due particular consideration rather than act generally.

Reply to Objection 3: Like the Burkha, the Turban and the yarmulke, the cross is a recognised religious symbol, in this case of Christianity which has a long establishment in the United Kingdom. Again, the employer needs to consider individual cases rather than issue general statements.

Reply to Objection 4: Unless it can be proved at the particular case that a cross is being worn in an unhygienic or dangerous fashion, there can be no objection on these grounds.

Reply to Objection 5: Christians have to put up with many unchristian ways of life being imposed upon them: Sex before marriage is presented as the norm via every media outlet; Gluttony is rife as evidenced by the increase in obesity; people are encouraged to believe that truth is relative; old folk are neglected; babies aborted. Christians are expected to tolerate these values which are contrary to the Faith and it is reasonable that this be done as far as possible (the horror of abortion is perhaps too much to tolerate) though the Christian has no obligation to accept these values as part of his lifestyle. Likewise, it is reasonable that the non-Christian should tolerate expressions of Christian values in the same vein. Advertisements are everywhere and no-one is expected to object to them, though many indeed find them disagreeable. Advertisements are part of modern life. Thus, if non-Christian values and advertisements are to be tolerated, so should Christian values and advertisements. The wearing of a cross is just as much an advertisement of faith as those who choose not to wear one. The tacit assumption thatGod does not exist should not be used as a reason for objecting to Christian values and symbols.

Reply to Objection 6: Religious Neutrality is a myth since every human being has a set of values and morals by which they live life and they exhibit these values in their manners and in the way that they dress. This is even true of those in uniforms since the wearing of a uniform takes on the idiosyncrasies of the wearer. The wearing of a cross is an outward expression of an inner faith and the symbol becomes a vehicle for the wearer to be aware of their religion as part of their identity. The employer has no right to change the identity of their employee.

1 comment:

edpacht1 said...

Jesus had things to say to the Pharisees who made a great deal of external show of their religion. To take up the cross says no0thing at all about wearing jewelry, but much indeed about expecting 'unfair' treatment. Does an employer have the right to impose whatever dress code he desires? I would say that he does. I'm not comfortable with government restrictions upon that.

Is it wise for an employer to make restrictions of that nature? I'd say it is wise for an employer to make exceptions to his rules when those seeking exceptions show evidence that their desire is not to be disruptive.