A Christian electrician who has worked at a publicly funded housing association for 15 years is facing the sack because he has a small palm cross in his company van.
Colin Atkinson, from Wakefield, has been found in breach of company rules on ‘neutrality’ and faces a full disciplinary hearing in May. His case is being run by the Christian Legal Centre.
Mr Atkinson says the small cross is a symbol of his faith and is in a discreet place. He has been backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, a national newspaper and an ex-MP.
Mr Atkinson’s boss at Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) is allowed to display a poster of Che Guevara in his office.
And a WDH official told Mr Atkinson’s union representative that it would allow a Muslim female employee in a burka in its official colours.
Last year WDH received an anonymous letter claiming tenants might be offended by the cross in his van.
Mr Atkinson was told by his line manager that he should remove the symbol but Mr Atkinson said ‘no’ and was later accused of refusing a “reasonable” management request.
Mr Atkinson, who expects to be sacked, said: “I’m really shocked and surprised by all of this. I have always had that cross in my van.
“It’s a symbol of my personal faith. It’s not offensive. It’s in a discreet place and I am acting lawfully.”
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Colin Atkinson is a decent and hardworking man, yet after many years of service he has been told that he cannot continue to have a small palm cross in his van.”
She continued: “This smacks of something deeply illiberal and remarkably intolerant. Freedom of expression now needs to be robustly defended.
“When a man can’t display a palm cross in his van in a historically Christian country, it should give people serious pause for thought. Is this the kind of society that the British public want to live in?
“The cross is a profound symbol of God’s love for all of us. We should not be embarrassed about it, and the historic Christian character of this nation should be retained for the benefit of all.”
Gillian Pickersgill, executive director of people at WDH, commented: “Wakefield and District Housing is extremely disappointed and surprised with the misrepresentation of this issue.”
She also said: “It is not about religion – it’s simply about employees not displaying personal items in company vehicles. WDH expects all its employees to have regard to the Equality Act 2010.
“It is permissible for WDH employees to display, within the spirit of the Act, religious artefacts and other personal possessions on their desks and themselves.”
Commenting on the case, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said it was “outrageous that anyone cannot display a small palm cross”.
He added: “If Muslims and Sikhs can display symbols of their faiths, such as wearing headscarves and turbans, then surely Christians should be allowed to display a cross.”
And former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe commented: “It’s one rule for Christians and another rule for followers of any other religion.”
In The Daily Telegraph, commentator Cristina Odone wrote: “Soon, the authorities will forbid conscientious objection: Christian doctors, for instance, will be forced to carry out elective abortions, which they regard as a sin.
“Where will it end? I fear intolerant atheists will not be satisfied until they’ve driven faith underground”.
A Mail on Sunday editorial said that, under the motto of equality and diversity, a “strange and disturbing campaign against the Christian faith has recently burst into the open”.
It continued: “A teacher, a registrar, a nurse, an airline worker, guest-house owners and would-be foster parents have all fallen foul of it, not to mention numerous preachers. And in each of these cases it is clear that Christianity alone has been selected for this treatment.”
The editorial commented that, despite the Housing Association’s claimed “stance of neutrality”, it was “nothing of the sort”.
And it continued that in practice “neutrality” in the UK means “a systematic and repeated harassment of Christians for failing to realise that their faith has been replaced by an aggressive state multiculturalism, allied with sexual liberation”.