British Prime Minister David Cameron pictured with Pope Benedict XVI. CNS photo/Carl Court, pool via Reuters

Insult to the cross

  • March 13, 2012

In promoting new evangelization, Pope Benedict has lamented what he calls an “eclipse of the sense of God” in society.

In 2009 that eclipse was exposed in a very public way when an atheist won a much-publicized case (subsequently overturned on appeal) to have crucifixes removed from Italian classrooms. Since then, cases have abounded in which the state has sided with individuals clamouring to expunge religious symbols, holidays, prayer and even Christian conscience from public life. But recent actions by the British government elevate state-sponsored religious intolerance to a new level.

The coalition government of David Cameron has declared that citizens have no right to wear a cross around their necks at work and can be required to remove their cross if ordered by the boss. If they refuse, they can be fired.

In a case headed to the European Court of Human Rights, Britain will argue that two women who insisted on wearing a cross at work and were disciplined for it basically got what they deserved. The discipline was justified, argues the government, because wearing a cross is an option, not a requirement, of Christianity and therefore is unprotected by human rights legislation.

The case involves a British Airways worker and health-care provider who have led a fight against what they perceive is religious discrimination. After exhausting legal options in Britain, they appealed to the European court citing a human rights guarantee of freedom to assert “religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

But no such right exists for cross wearers, according to the British government. It supports the right of a Sikh to wear a turban or a Muslim to wear a hijab, but disputes that wearing a cross or crucifix is a “generally recognized form of practising the Christian faith,” let alone a requirement of the faith.

It is true Christians are not compelled to wear a cross. But it is ludicrous to imply that a cross is no more than an adornment unrelated to religious observance or practising faith. It’s also disrespectful to imply that Christians should hide their faith or meekly accept government thrusts to marginalize religion in society.

Christianity is to be lived in public view, not hidden behind closed doors. As Cardinal Thomas Collins recently said, Catholics should emulate the early disciples and boldly spread the message of the Lord by their words and actions. Wearing a cross is a sign of that faith. It symbolizes love, forgiveness and belief in salvation. It boldly expresses the hope and joy of Christianity while professing fidelity and giving witness to a Christian duty of discipleship.

To suggest, as the British government has done, that wearing a cross is insignificant to Christian faith is as wrong as it is insulting.

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