Eweida v. United Kingdom  | 2013

Airline worker wins fight for religious freedom

I was very pleased to know that the European Court of Human Rights looked into it. I feel vindicated…

Nadia Eweida, interview with the BBC - © Photo Council of Europe


Nadia Eweida worked as a member of check-in staff for British Airways (BA). She wore a small silver cross on a chain around her neck, as a sign of her commitment to her Christian faith.

One day Nadia was sent home and suspended without pay, on the grounds that her cross violated company uniform policy. She complained that she had been punished because of her religion. However, the UK courts rejected her claims and upheld BA’s decision to suspend her.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the cross had been discreet and cannot have detracted from Ms Eweida’s professional appearance. In these circumstances, there was no real evidence that it encroached on the rights of others.

The UK courts had given too much weight to BA’s desire to project a certain corporate image and not enough weight to Ms Eweida’s right to manifest her religion.


After the events, British Airways changed its company policy in 2007 to allow the display of religious and charity symbols. This allowed Nadia Eweida to return to work.

Following the European court’s judgment, the UK government took steps to make sure that courts and employers have a clearer understanding of how to assess the importance of religious freedom in future cases.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission issued an explanation of the judgment and a targeted guide for employers. These were made public and widely circulated. Courts and judges were made aware of the ruling and the standards it set through its widespread publication.


Related examples

Legal code changed after a woman was excluded from a courtroom for wearing a hijab

Hagar Lachiri was excluded from a Belgian court hearing because she refused to take off the headscarf she chooses to wear as a practising Muslim. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that this violated Hagar’s religious freedom. Belgium responded to the judgment by changing the law on which the violation was based.

Read more

Justice and reforms after airmen were given criminal convictions for their religious activities

Three Greek air force officers were members of the Pentecostal Church. They were all convicted for promoting their religion and given suspended prison sentences of over a year. The European court ruled that convicting the men for these conversations with civilians had violated their right to religious freedom. The Greek government took steps to ensure that no such prosecutions happened again.

Read more

Reforms made after mother lost custody of her children simply because of her religion

Ingrid Hoffmann was a Jehovah’s Witness. When she got divorced, a child psychologist advised that she should be given custody of her children, because of their close bond. However, an Austrian court ruled that the father should get custody, because of Ingrid’s religion. The European court ruled that this had been discriminatory – leading to changes to prevent the same thing happening again.

Read more