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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 18:02 GMT
Red Cross denies banning Christmas
Red Cross flags
The Red Cross doesn't want to offend Muslims
The Red Cross has denied it has tried to "ban Christmas" from its charity shops.

Staff were told not to set up nativity scenes, Christmas trees or decorations with Christian symbols in case they offended Muslims and other non-Christians.

One volunteer said the policy was "political correctness gone mad".

To be trusted by all sides, it is essential that we are not seen to be linked with any religious organisations

Sir Nicholas Young
Red Cross
But chief executive Sir Nicholas Young said on Saturday it had always been the organisation's policy not to display materials of an "overtly religious nature" in shop windows.

He said the organisation had never been associated with any religion in accordance with its principles of impartiality and neutrality.

"The British Red Cross has not 'banned Christmas'. Our volunteers and staff are welcome and actively encouraged to celebrate their own particular religions and festivals whenever and however they please," said Sir Nicholas.

His remarks were sparked by Christine Banks, a volunteer at a Red Cross shop in Kent, who said the manager of her store had got a Christmas tree for the shop.

Christmas tree

She told the BBC: "He had to take it back out again because he was told we weren't allowed to have anything like that, or anything that was to do with Christmas or Christians.

"This was because we were told the Red Cross doesn't want to offend Muslims."

Labour peer Lord Ahmed, one of the country's most prominent Muslim politicians, told the Daily Mail newspaper it was "stupid" to think Muslims would be offended.

The teachings from Islam are that you should respect other faiths

Lord Ahmed
He added: "The Muslim community has been talking to Christians for the past 1,400 years.

"The teachings from Islam are that you should respect other faiths."

Confirming the ban at the charity's 430 shops, Sir Nicholas said: "It has always been a policy at the British Red Cross not to display materials of an overtly religious nature in shop windows or elsewhere.

"Doing so runs the risk of identifying us with one particular faith."

He said the international organisation had a "unique role" in ensuring the safe passage of civilians, medical staff, messages and relief supplies during conflicts.

"To do so successfully, to be trusted by all sides, it is essential that we are not seen to be linked with any political groups, religious organisations or particular communities," he added.

"It is vital that we continue to do so, wherever and whenever we can."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Not all decorations are banned"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
The Red Cross bans Christmas decorations in its shop for fear of offending non-Christians. What do you think?Nativity ban
Is the Red Cross right to ban decorations?
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