Christian nurse says NHS 'persecuted' her faith and favours Muslims employees
A Christian nurse who refused to remove her crucifix at work has told an employment tribunal she felt "persecuted" because of her faith.
By Laura Roberts
Published: 7:30AM BST 31 Mar 2010
Shirley Chaplin, who has worn her cross every day for 30 years, said she felt that Muslim members of staff were treated with greater understanding when it came to outward symbols of their religion.
The 54 year-old was banned from working on hospital wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after she failed to hide the cross she wore on a necklace chain. She is now suing her hospital employers.
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She said: "Muslims are treated preferably to Christians who are treated less favourably."
"I feel upset and persecuted. My belief is genuine and I am here to bear witness to that." She claimed that Muslim staff were allowed to wear headscarves as a "commitment to their faith and it is just accepted as they way they are".
The grandmother stressed that she had "no particular dislike" of Muslims but said they were the only other religious diversity within the Trust and they were "not asked to give witness about their faith".
"I believe it is discrimination," Mrs Chaplin claimed.
The Trust said they made a number of attempts to reach a solution including wearing clip-on crucifix earrings.
Mrs Chaplin, a nurse since 1978, said: "I felt the Trust was trying to humiliate me" adding that a badge clipped on her uniform would have been a safer option than clip on earrings.
Mrs Chaplin said the crucifix which she was given as a Confirmation gift, 'stays on my body'.
When one member of the three-man tribunal panel asked Mrs Chaplin about the cost of the protracted case to her emotionally, financially and to her health, she replied: "They are persecuting my faith. I am not sure what point they are trying to make."
She told tribunal Judge John Hollow that the cross and chain were a traditional way of wearing the crucifix and a crucifix alone on a lapel would not be satisfactory.
She said: "I want my clinical role back. My desire is to carry on working on wards as a nurse which has been taken from my until you decide what my future will be." Mr Hollow said at 54 years of age she still had a lot of skills to offer.
Mrs Chaplin is backed in her battle by six bishops, who claim Christians are being persecuted in Britain.
The six bishops who back the nurse - and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury – wrote to The Sunday Telegraph to offer their support.
They said: “It would seem that the NHS trust would rather lose the skills of an experienced nurse and divert scarce resources to fighting a legal case, instead of treating patients.
“This dedicated nurse… has worn the cross every day since confirmation as a sign of her Christian faith, a faith which led to her vocation in nursing.”
A spokesman for Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust said: "The Trust made its position clear at the beginning of the tribunal and it would be inappropriate to make a running commentary on some of the key issues before we have articulated our case at the hearing."
The tribunal continues.