Saturday, 19 March 2011

Lift high the cross?

 I have been reading the European Court ruling that crucifixes are allowed in public school classrooms. I  know I keep wading in with my strong opinions ( that's part of the fun of blogging!) but I have to say that I do think secular schools - as opposed to faith schools - should be free of religious icons.
Let me make it quite clear that I do not think that individual pupils or teachers should  be banned from wearing religious icons or items of clothing, provided these are in line with a general school dress code/ safety regulations, nor do I have any problem with religious icons appearing as part of an educational display, for example. However, I do think that to have a cross or other religous icon prominently displayed  in, for example, the school hall or the headteacher's study sends out a message that the ethos of the school is governed by that faith rather than another.
Some people may argue that Britain is a "christian country" (I am not so sure it is anymore) and so it is acceptable for a Christian symbol to be displayed rather than any other. This is a fair point, but I am not sure it is enough - would adults want crosses prominently displayed in a secular workplace in Britain, for example? I know also that making crucifixes "illegal" is going to provoke strong headlines. I don't particularly  buy into the argument that crucifixes should be banned because children may find them distressing. I am much more concerned about the levels of violence children are exposed to in video games for example - but I am happy to be proved wrong if anyone has been traumatised by the sight of a crucifix in their classroom!

 This year I received a calendar from a Christian charity I support. I needed a calendar for my office and briefly considered using this one. I felt I couldn't because it had bible verses and overtly religious pictures on it. Students sometimes come into my office to talk about potentially sensitive areas - such as an unplanned pregnancy - and I did not want anything on the wall that might, however wrongly, give a student the impression that they were not in a neutral space where people of all faiths or none and with different beliefs and perspectives and experiences would not be treated equally.

This is not to say that my faith does not have an impact on my job, I hope it informs how I act and behave in every aspect of life. Faith entering into every aspect of your life is not the same as it being worn as a badge or ostensible symbol - and for what, and with what effect on others? Sometime it is the more Christian thing not to wear our faith on our sleeves, as long as we have it in our hearts.


  1. I agree with your point about individuals wearing crossess or other symbols of their faith, and that secular schools ought not to display such symbols in public areas. This however, brought back to mind the recent brouhaha about girls wearing trousers and head coverings in accordance with their beliefs.
    When is something a personal token of faith and when a public declaration of religious difference. I genuinely find myself in favour of one rule for all, at one minute, and each to their own, at the next.

  2. Hmmm, yes, me too! Have to admit that I don't even wear a cross to work anymore, though I would in other situations.

  3. I think one of the interesting things about this issue is that the European Court has been flexible in making its decision. My hope is that this will be reciprocated by the devoutly religious – and particularly those ‘professional’ martyrs that seem to delight in making discord.

    Just to be sure of my facts I have read through the decision making process on the BA worker who made such a fuss over being told to remove a cross, or put it out of sight, and it is amusing to note that her employment record shows that she was difficult to manage anyway – regardless of the crucifix issue!

    Signs of religion in public spaces is a difficult one. When I was doing my practice teaching training (a post qualification award social workers take so they can supervise student social workers in a working environment) one of the ‘What would you do if...?’ questions we worked through, was what would we do if a student rolled up wearing a t-shirt with ‘Jesus Saves’ emblazoned across it. We all agreed this was not appropriate in the workplace – but my employer at the time didn’t allow facial piercings or the wearing of jeans – are these prohibitions against personal liberty? No, you’re paid to do a job – get over it.

    For much of my working life I had my own office and so ‘religious’ items weren’t a problem; I did have a small icon of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet hanging on the wall (I thought it apt as a social worker). But only I used the office and I saw clients either on the hospital ward or in a special meeting room. As a manager I did not allow my secretary and assistant manager to overly personalise their working space – one or two photos and the odd post card were fine – it was joke posters I objected to, rather than religious stuff. The issue in all these cases is that of what use is the space being put to and why are you, as an employee, there?

    I think the real issue, at the heart of any of these religious dilemmas, is what is the motivation for the behaviour? When it comes to wearing a prominent crucifix, with the exception of some religious orders, there is no religious or cultural reason to wear a crucifix. Indeed, it would be better if Christians followed Jesus’ and St Paul’s advice, and that their behaviour marked them out as ‘different’ rather than bits of tin around their necks – or scripture verses around their desk. Wearing the hijab is different in that there are some cultural reasons for wearing it (though more and more I would suggest the reason it is being worn is political). But if you’re going to wear it, then you have to abide by the limitations of wearing it. A Somali colleague of mine, in my last job, was having a leaving party and at the end she came round and hugged kissed everyone. She wore the full Somali veil. She and I got on very well, but when she came to hug and kiss me I stepped back and just smiled and said ‘goodbye’. Afterwards she asked why I wouldn’t hug her and I said ‘You have chosen to wear a symbol of your religion that means you do not want the attention of a man; I will not compromise you.’ ‘Oh it doesn’t matter to me.’ She said. ‘No, but it matters to me – you can’t have your cake and eat it.’ I replied.

    But here we’re not talking about personal behaviour or about faith schools; these are public, secular schools and therefore I can’t really see why you’d need a crucifix in a secular school! At the end of the day, it’s just bit of wood and I can see the issue of a crucifix being a contentious one between Catholics and Protestants – never mind Christians and non-Christians. What is the motivation for the behaviour? Why, in a public secular building does anyone need a crucifix, is the question that should be being asked!


  4. Yes, I agree about public secular buildings. You don't see a cross hanging on the wall of the leisure centre, for example, I can't see why a school is different. My youngest son attends a faith school(RC) so that is a different matter.
    My eldest (vehement atheist!)goes to a non faith school and probably would object to a crucifix on the wall of his classroom. Mind you, if he wanted to take it to court, I'd probably tell him not to be daft and just live with it - if that's the worst oppression he faces count himself lucky!