SIR – On March 29, a Christian nurse, Shirley Chaplin, will take the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust to the Exeter Employment Tribunal.
This dedicated nurse, who has cared for thousands of patients over 30 years, was told by the trust to remove from her neck a cross she first wore at her confirmation service over 40 years ago.
She has worn the cross every day since her confirmation as a sign of her Christian faith, a faith which led to her vocation in nursing, and which has sustained her in that vital work ever since.
Mrs Chaplin refused to remove her cross and, as a result, was prevented from working in a patient-facing role.
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.
The uniform policy of the NHS trust permits exemptions for religious clothing. This has been exercised with regard to other faiths, but not with regard to the wearing of a cross around the neck.
Furthermore, Mrs Chaplin has been informed that the Court requires evidence of the fact that Christians wear crosses visibly around the neck. It cannot be right that judges are unaware of such a basic practice.
This is yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect. We are deeply concerned at the apparent discrimination shown against Christians and we call on the Government to remedy this serious development.
In a number of cases, Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are simply not being upheld. There have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country. We believe that the major parties need to address this issue in the coming general election.
The cross is ubiquitous in Christian devotion from the earliest times and clearly the most easily recognisable Christian symbol. For many Christians, wearing a cross is an important expression of their Christian faith and they would feel bereft if, for some unjustifiable reason, they were not allowed to wear it. To be asked by an employer to remove or "hide" the cross, is asking the Christian to hide their faith.
Any policy that regards the cross as "just an item of jewellery" is deeply disturbing and it is distressing that this view can ever be taken.
Most Rev Lord Carey of Clifton
Former Archbishop of Canterbury
Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt
Bishop of Winchester
Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali
Former Bishop of Rochester
Rt Rev Peter Forster
Bishop of Chester
Rt Rev Anthony Priddis
Bishop of Hereford
Rt Revd Nicholas Reade
Bishop of Blackburn