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Sacked Christians Appeal To Human Rights Court

Four British Christians who say they lost their jobs because of their Christian beliefs have taken their cases on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The four allege that they suffered discrimination as a result of their Christian values. A ruling by the Strasbourg court is not expected for several months.

In one case, Nadia Eweida was sent home without pay from British Airways in 2006 for refusing to remove a small silver cross from around her neck that violated the company's dress code.

Her attorney told the Strasbourg court on September 4 that Eweida worked alongside colleagues who were allowed to wear religious symbols such as the Sikh turban, the Muslim head scarf, and the Jewish skullcap.

Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, also was fired after she refused an order by her employers to remove a crucifix around her neck. The hospital said the order was issued on safety and health grounds because the cross could cause injury if a patient pulled at it.

In both cases, a British tribunal rejected their claims of religious discrimination -- a ruling based on grounds that wearing a cross is not a requirement of the Christian faith.

The European Human Rights Court has in the past given considerable leeway to member states to regulate the wearing of religious dress and display religious symbols in public, especially in cases involving Islamic dress.

In one previous case, the court ruled that a French school could make its Muslim female students remove their head scarves during sports classes for safety reasons.

In another, it found that an Italian state school did not violate the rights to religious freedom or education by displaying crucifixes in classrooms.

The other two cases heard in the Strasbourg court on September 4 involve Christians who say they lost their jobs because they believe homosexual relationships are contrary to God's law and they could not do anything to condone homosexuality.

Lillian Ladele, a registrar, was fired after refusing to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies between same-sex couples.

Therapist Gary McFarlane was fired for refusing to give counseling to same-sex couples.

The British government won those cases by arguing that expressions of religious belief are "not absolute rights, or rights without limits" -- and that employers cannot be forced to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees who do not wish to provide services to the public, or to a certain a section of the public.

Rulings by the Strasbourg court cannot be appealed and countries that are signatories must comply with the rulings or risk exclusion from the Council of