A medal of honour established by the Queen has been declared illegal after Muslim and Hindu groups complained that its Christian associations were offensive.
Five law lords of the Privy Council ruled that the introduction of the Trinity Cross of the Order of the Trinity discriminated against non-Christians.
The Queen introduced the honour 40 years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, but there are concerns the ruling could threaten the status of other UK honours like the Victoria and George Crosses.
A spokesman from the Cabinet Office said the decision on the Trinity Cross had been “noted”, and that it was “monitoring the situation”.
In 2004 a committee of MPs recommended a new, streamlined honours system in which all Christian terms would be removed and the Order of the British Empire would be replaced by the Order of British Excellence.
Writing in The Times today, Valentine Low commented: “If we rename our honours now, we will only have to rename them again in a century or so when some attention-seeker decides that the Order of British Excellence is elitist, or discriminatory, or just too British.”
The Trinity Cross was established by the Queen in 1969 to recognise “distinguished and outstanding service to Trinidad and Tobago”, “gallantry in the face of the enemy”, or “gallant conduct”.
In its judgment, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council said the honour was seen by Hindus and Muslims in Trinidad and Tobago as an “overtly Christian symbol”, and that its introduction “was an infringement of the rights and freedoms of members of the Hindu and Muslim communities in Trinidad and Tobago” and “was unconstitutional”.
It said previous recipients of the Trinity Cross would be able to retain the honour despite the ruling.
The Trinidad and Tobago Government replaced the Trinity Cross in 2008 with The Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Some individuals offered the Trinity Cross had refused it on religious grounds.
An editorial comment in The Times asked: “If this cross is illegal, where does that leave the Victoria Cross and the George Cross, the only decorations that take precedence over the Trinity Cross? Moreover, the whole menu of the honours system is stiff with crosses and grand crosses, saints and the British Empire, and other relics of the age of chivalry. The Union Flag is blazoned with no fewer than three crosses.”
It adds: “The islands are entitled to take a view on their own honours. But this decision should not set a precedent that the United Kingdom feels it needs to follow.”