Page last updated at 17:41 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 18:41 UK

Crucifix removal 'faith violation', Exeter nurse claims

Shirley Chaplin
Shirley Chaplin said asking her to hide her crucifix was "disrespectful"

A Christian nurse removed from front-line duties for refusing to remove a crucifix has said taking it off would "violate her faith".

Shirley Chaplin told an employment tribunal the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals NHS Trust had discriminated against her.

The 54-year-old from Exeter claimed the trust was trying to prevent her from expressing her religious beliefs.

But the trust has said its actions were motivated by health and safety.

It said the uniform and dress code prohibited front-line staff wearing any type of necklace.

Expression of faith

This was nothing to do with the crucifix specifically, but was about the risk of patients grabbing necklaces.

Mrs Chaplin, who wore the crucifix to the tribunal in Exeter, said in a 71-point statement she was "personally convicted" to wear the emblem, given to her as a confirmation gift in 1971.

In the statement, she said: "I have been a nurse for roughly 30 years and throughout that time I have worn my crucifix.

"The crucifix is an exceptionally important expression of my faith and my belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

"To deliberately remove or hide my crucifix or to treat it disrespectfully would violate my faith."

She told the tribunal wearing the crucifix was to remind her of Jesus dying on the cross to remove her sins and to identify her with Jesus by physically "taking up my cross".

Wearing it visibly, rather than hiding it beneath clothes, also motivated her by making her accountable to her Christian lifestyle.

Mrs Chaplin was appointed in 1994 and promoted to an E-grade nurse in 2001, the tribunal heard.

Asked if she thought health and safety issues are a reasonable excuse to remove jewellery, she said they "might be".

Archbishop support

At the time of the incident, last September, the trust admitted there had been "possible lapses" on uniform policy among the 6,000 hospital staff, but it said line managers were expected to address them.

It told Mrs Chaplin it would be acceptable for her to wear the cross pinned inside a uniform lapel or pocket, but she told the tribunal asking her to hide her faith was "disrespectful".

In a letter written to the Sunday Telegraph, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and six bishops said Mrs Chaplin's example was "yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect".

The tribunal continues.

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