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Christian nurse set to appeal cross case

A Christian nurse has confirmed she plans to appeal after losing her discrimination-at-work case over wearing a necklace with a cross.

The European Convention on Human Rights ruled that Shirley Chaplin’s rights had not been violated when her employer insisted that she had to stop wearing the crucifix for health and safety reasons.

Ms Chaplin, 57, from Exeter, was transferred to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter Trust Hospital after she refused to remove the cross, which she said she had been wearing to work for three decades.

She explained that she had no regret over her actions and felt she had to “stand up for my faith”.

But the judges decided her rights had not been impeded, agreeing that her religious rights were outweighed by any health and safety concerns.

Speaking after the ruling, Ms Chaplin explained that she has worn the crucifix since she was 16 and throughout her nursing career which began in 1978.

She added: “I’ve worn it without incident. I’ve nursed a very wide range of patients. I’ve been bitten, I’ve been scratched, I’ve had computers thrown at me but no one has ever, ever grabbed my crucifix,” she added.

“To say it’s a health and safety risk, I really don’t agree with that at all. We intend to appeal and take it back to the European Court.”

Hospital officials said they had suggested a number of ways Ms Chaplin could still wear the cross, such as concealing it under her uniform, but she had refused.

Her case was first heard at an Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2010, but her complaint was not upheld.

Ms Chaplin was one of four British Christians who brought religious discrimination-at-work cases against the Government at the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judges ruled that three of the four, including Ms Chaplin, had not had their rights violated, but they ruled that British Airways worker Nadia Eweida had suffered discrimination after being told not to wear her white gold cross so visibly at work.


Readers' comments (67)

  • tinkerbell

    wish you every success with this Shirley. As a Christian myself, although unconventional and not into religious dogma, i wear a small crucifix and it has never been an issue. It isn't visible to anyone as i don't wear low necklines, but even if it was why should it cause offense?

    If other religions, turbans, burkas are tolerated why discriminate? So long as we are not hindered from carrying out our jobs.

    Some nurses wear other peices of jewellary with raised diamonds on rings, studs in noises, etc., etc., and although these are a hazard during personal care and not compliant with infection control nothing happens.

    Double standards?

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  • was it really a health and safety issue? it does not sound very convincing as it would be highly unlikely to cause harm; and harm to whom - nurse or patients?

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  • Peter Goble

    The point at issue here is that this nurse intends to communicate her personal beliefs to others by wearing a religious symbol. She is doing this non-verbally, but communicating unsolicited personal information all the same.

    In my opinion, giving this unasked-for personal information is professionally questionable, to say the least. Hospital patients are vulnerable, and their relationship with carers is not that of equals. Patients do not easily respond to nurse-led communication of any kind, and are not well-placed to respond to non-verbal communication.

    This nurse doesn't seem to have given this much consideration, and in my opinion she has a professional duty to do so, and ought to account for her apparent
    breach of that duty to her peers.

    I've not seen any evidence that the NMC has commented on this, but that doesn't surprise me at all.

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  • Peter Goble | 18-Jan-2013 2:35 pm

    it is very difficult to operate in a world with so many differences of opinion and judgements passed on the behaviour of others. what is the way forward so that each and everyone can be respected for who they are?

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  • What a waste of time and money!! Has this helped religious freedom and self-expression - no! The whole issue has made her look like a self-centred, money-grabbing, religious nut and has put back the issue of religious expression and tolerance decades.

    Ms Chaplin should be ashamed of herself - How many tens of thousand of pounds has this cost so far; money which should be spent on patient care and service delivery not on some individuals whim.

    If the display of a crucifix was a religous necessity (as laid out in religious text) I could understand it, (even though I don't personally believe it to be right). However, this is just one individuals take on her faith. It does not have the unquestioning support of any Christian doctrine.

    It seems to me her Trust has bent over backwards to be reasonable and to help; they offered numerous options for her to continue her previous roles which would allow her to continue wearing her cross & provided her with an alternative job. The fact is that had she chosen to wear the cross under her uniform (i.e. with her uniform neck fastened-up) no one would have been aware of the issue, no one would have been put "at risk" and no one would have got worked-up about it. Instead, she wasn't content and chose to become a martyr, make the issue political in the hope some other misguided souls join her in her mission.

    Just because she says she has never harmed anyone with her cross before doesn't give her the right to continue to put patients at risk (I suggest any misguided individual thinking differently should review their code of professional conduct and consult any reputable medical law book on the "thin skull rule").

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  • tinkerbell

    things swinging and dangling across a patient like lanyards with name badges should also be banned. I have asked many a nurse reaching across a patient during personal care to tuck them into their uniforms so we don't take someones eye out.

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  • what about nuns who nurse patients?

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  • Peter Goble

    Yes, Anonymous, it is difficult to operate in this complex world, and that's why nurses undergo a rigorous professional training designed to equip them for that world, and to make good decisions for those they serve.

    Your question is a good one and there is, of course, no ready-made answer to it. We have to work these things out for ourselves in ever-changing circumstances, which tends to support my point about training.

    No-one reasonably expects us to make perfect decisions, but decisions about what to communicate about ourselves in our professional role is fairly straightforward, and is under our control. It's also fairly basic that we don't offer information about ourselves except under very limited circumstances, and certainly not to everyone, and without being asked.

    That's what this nurse did when she deliberately exhibited her cross to her patients. It might have been useful to ask her what her intentiions were by doing so, and challenging her responses.

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  • Peter Goble

    Nuns, unless uinder training in secular institutions, usually work within their religious institutions, and patients may exercise some choice about where they are cared for.

    Patients would expect to be cared for by a nun in a convent hospital, and that uniformity would not challenge their expectations so much as to cause dissonance or discomfort. A patient might feel bold enough to say "I don't like nuns" or "I'm not a Christian" in such circumstances, although a few might not.

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  • Peter Goble

    Tinkerbell, it's not about giving offence, it's about you advertising your personal beliefs to someone who may not wish to know you personally. Why do you want to advertise your personal beliefs to every patient you encounter? Do you believe that this will make you seem more effective in their eyes, or more effective than nurses who don't need to tell their patients who they are 'personally' as distinct from professionally?

    You don't need to answer these questions, but I hope you may reflect on your answers honestly and - dare I say it - professionally and maturely.

    I'm sure you were taught early on that it is unwise to share personal information with your patients, and the reasons behind this precept. Sometimes the best answer to a personal question such as "Are you married, nurse?" or "Do you have children?" is a nice smile, and perhaps the polite rejoinder "Why do you ask?". This may help the patient to tell you what prompted their question, and that may illuminate a problem or a concern of theirs.

    If it's idle curiosity, or a "chat-up line", then you'll know how to reply.

    This is really first-year professional learning, or used to be!

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  • Peter Goble | 18-Jan-2013 7:51 pm

    why are you so desperate to hide everything from your patients. I most certainly never learned that and they may want to know that you are as human as they are and can share stories and experiences as well as knowing who is looking after them. how much do you know about the personal circumstances? often how they live and their family is important in providing them with holistic care? and what if they happen to live in the same community as you do or are even a friend, or next door neighbour?

    As for this nurse or any of our professional colleagues

    "It might have been useful to ask her what her intentiions were by doing so, and challenging her responses." this is her own personal affair and not up to us to make any assumptions or challenge her own intentions.

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  • Peter Goble | 18-Jan-2013 7:51 pm

    you give the impression of delivering a lecture in which you impose your own values without taking into consideration anybody else's which may differ from yours.

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  • I believe a nurse who is unable to share something of themselves with their patients must come across as very cold and clinical which could even be perceived by patients as being disinterested and uncaring. We also give out messages which tell a lot about ourselves by the way we dress, even if it is a hospital uniform, the addition of personal adornments such discrete jewellery, make up, hairstyle, hemlines, etc. and also by our attitudes, body language, facial expression and posture. Everybody picks up these signals and perhaps even more so patients.

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  • tinkerbell


    Whatever you believe be it

    Or any other

    And so long as you are not forcing your beliefs onto the patient or causing harm why should anyone be offended. Was anyone offended?

    We had a diverse mix of ethnicity and cultures on my last ward and staff had discussions amongst ourselves but none of us felt the need to discuss our beliefs with our patients or try to 'convert' anyone and none of the staff who wore a cross ever had a patient complain or manager complain. It just wasn't an issue.

    As I understand it this nurse worked for 30 years without it being a problem and was well respected as a nurse, no patient complained but for some reason it became an issue with the managers. She also offered to wear it on a shorter chain if it was a safety hazard. She wasn't wearing a bishops mitre atop her head. The arch bishop said it was "wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness".

    I don't think anyone should feel ashamed of their beliefs if they are not causing harm or badgering another with them.

    It's petty and intolerant and to single one person out when there are so many others in nursing wearing chains round their necks with pendants or crosses, make it the same for everyone or not at all, don't just single one nurse out and cause such havoc, taking offence on other peoples behalf when they themselves have not taken any is ridiculous and creates conflict where there was previously none.

    I think that would be a more mature response.

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  • I believe authenticity is important in any interpersonal and therapeutic relationships rather than trying to hide behind any mask or failing to disclose who you genuinely are. it is about sharing information with others and not a one sided communication.

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  • It seems paradoxical that nurses were being questioned not that long ago for not attending to the spiritual needs of patients under their care.

    It seems we are there to accede to everybody's ever changing demands and needs without any acknowledgement by anybody that we have needs of our own some of which need urgently addressing!

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  • Peter Goble

    Authenticity is vital but doesn't necessarily involve giving personal information about yourself to a patient. I'm not saying there aren't occasions when this makes therapeutic sense, but such occasiions are rare and must be carefully judged.

    Because I try to use careful language doesn't mean I'm lecturing you. I've spent over fifty years as a nurse and a lot of my work has been with people with communication difficulties, which has taught me (amongst other things) to see things from the patient's perspective.

    A lot of the opinions expressed on this topic have been about what nurses think, what nurses need by way of recognition, and what nurses want. It's been said that patients don't complain, but not complaining doesn't mean that patients are entirely satisfied with what nurses do, or happy about the way they communicate.

    Isn't there a body of evidence that suggests otherwise? And shouldn't we take note of it?

    I'm very interested in a spiritual dimension to care, and for twenty years I led a hospice charity offering spiritual care to dying people. I'm currently a healthcare chaplain (Buddhist).

    Healthcare chaplains are moving towards a model of care that doesn't advertise the personal beliefs or affiliation of the care-giver (chaplaincy worker), as research evidence suggests that most patients don't want to know about it, although they may welcome a listening ear. If a patient wants to know about my beliefs, she will ask me. I don't think it's inauthentic or cold to smile and ask, "What do you want me to tell you?"

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  • I thought equality, diversity and tolerance was supposed to be promoted at the workplace. But I suppose that some people are more equal than others...

    The health + safety defence is fairly weak, unless there's a ban lanyards with ID holders + cards, keys, memory sticks, smartcards, various badges, etc all attached onto them.

    Also I have worked alongside people with different faiths, wearing modified uniforms, and a couple of nuns (or possibly more, but not together), in at least a couple different NHS hospitals. At certain times, they would go off-ward to pray. No different to someone else having a 'fresh-air' break or a convenience break.
    Their abilities to deliver excellent care aren't impaired or that their patients suffered from someone wearing a different uniform or having items attached to them. If anything, those who were interested asked questions, it improved communications and there was a good patient/nurse relationship whilst in their care.
    If its a dangly item that the trust doesn't like - how about a 'Cross' attached, stuck or drawn to your ID badge, or even have your ID badge reprinted with a Cross symbol printed after your name - wipe with a sani-cloth and its clean again.
    If that isnt good enough, I think policymakers should personally try out a full body decontamination, (like a sponge wash in a decontamination tent in a major incident) before they walk into any patient areas bringing in their unclean bugs with them. There's probably more bugs on the ward keyboards and telephone, and how often to they get cleaned.

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  • Peter Goble

    Tinkerbell, this will be my last comment then I'm off down the pub!

    I like your comments and your style. You're right in saying that it seems unfair to single out an individual, when lots of others want to advertise their singular personality by wearing jewellery, bangles, tattoos or whatever. I'm pretty sure a big chunk of public opinion isn't impressed by this low-key flaunting of individual difference, and you can be sure the media will exploit public dissatisfaction to dismantle professional nursing - for ideological reasons - and substitute something cheap and cheerful - think G4S and the potty idea of Hunt's 1,000 juvenile"care-makers".

    Cheers, what's your tipple?

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  • I agree with Andy. I query whether the effects would have been the same if a cross was designed on a name badge. Although it would probably have raised just as many objections from management the H&S argument would have been difficult in that case but some other reason would have to be given which might be nearer to the truth!

    I don't support the dogmatism and imposing one's ideals on others and implying that only following these is what makes a good nurse and what the public wants as in the other comments. It may be useful in working with patients with learning difficulties and particular instances in mental health but there is no place for this in dealing with and nursing the general public and it has nothing to do with just what the nurses think and want.

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