British Airways Backs down on Cross Ban after International Outrage

An outpouring of condemnation and criticism from within the UK and around the globe finally convinced British Airways to withdraw its controversial ban on workers wearing a visible cross, the Daily Mail reported Saturday.

Airline chief executive Willie Walsh made the announcement five hours after the Church of England threatened to sell its £6.6 million worth of BA shares in response to the ban.

Mr. Walsh had led the airline in its refusal to concede employee Nelda Eweida's right to wear a small visible cross around her neck while in uniform. The airline had defended the ban by saying the rule applied to all visible jewelry – Miss Eweida was free to wear the cross so long as it did not show.

Muslim and Hindu employees were permitted to wear headscarves and turbans, however, which the airline said would be "impractical" to conceal beneath uniforms.

Critics condemned the policy as a double standard that openly discriminated against Christian employees.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Walsh said it was clear that policy would have to change, saying the airline would look at adapting the rules to "allow symbols of faith to be worn openly."

At an appeal November 20 the airline again ruled against Miss Eweida, who has been on unpaid leave for the past two months. That ruling unleashed an onslaught of criticism and calls for boycotts from church leaders and politicians alike.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams said the airline's anti-cross stance was "deeply offensive."

"If BA is really saying or implying that the wearing of a cross in public is a source of offence, then I regard that as deeply offensive and, in a society where religious liberty and the expression of religious commitment is free, I regard it as something really quite serious."

"If they're saying that it's to do with matters of health and safety, I would question whether that is a sensible kind of regulation, whether in fact there really is a problem here, and I would ask them to look very seriously at this, given the enormous reaction of dismay that's been caused in the Christian community."

MPs who opposed the airline on the issue began a boycott of BA flights, including Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw, Leader of the Commons Jack Straw, who said the ban was ‘quite inexplicable' and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, who said it was "loopy."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, spoke out against the airline policy, as did Muslim spokesman Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain, who said, "BA should allow this lady to wear her cross. It is simple and unobtrusive."

This is a country that prides itself on freedom of religion and BA should rethink as a matter of urgency."

The Vatican criticized British Airways in a statement made by Cardinal Walter Kasper, aide to Pope Benedict in charge of relationships with other churches.

"I find it very surprising that in a country of such rich traditions and religious freedom such a thing should be considered," Cardinal Kasper said. "There must be freedom to express one's religious beliefs. It is a very sad sign."

Criticism came from as far away as the U.S. and Africa. Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of the Nigerian Anglican church, threatened a boycott, saying, "As far as we are concerned the decision to ban the cross by BA has religious undercurrents. The trend in your country is to devalue its religious heritage. If BA says no to the cross, we shall start using another airline. I shall do everything I can to urge Christian leaders to boycott BA."

In retracting the airline's ban on crosses, Mr. Walsh suggested that BA policy changes may allow employees to wear lapel badges indicating their religious affiliation.

"The review will examine ways in which our uniform policy will be adapted to allow symbols of faith to be worn openly while remaining consistent with the British Airways brand and compliant with employment legislation."

"Our staff have suggested that we allow the wearing of religious symbols as small lapel badges. This will be considered as part of the review."

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