WAKEFIELD, UK, April 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - 64 year-old Colin Atkinson from West Yorkshire, is a Christian and also an electrician who works for a non-profit group Wakefield District Housing (WDH), and in fifteen years in his position he never thought for a moment that the two would clash. But now he is facing the sack for the offence of keeping a palm leaf, folded into the shape of a cross, on the rear view mirror of the company van he drives.
The palm cross, a common souvenir from the Palm Sunday services that were held throughout the Christian world this weekend, has been in Atkinson’s van for the entire 15 years he has worked for the non-profit housing organisation.
After a single anonymous complaint last year from a WDH tenant, he is facing disciplinary action when he refused to remove the cross. He is under “investigation” on suspicion of having given offence to “other faiths” - despite the fact that adherents of other faiths who work for WDH are allowed to wear headdresses, beards and turbans. In addition, the Daily Mail reported today that Atkinson’s boss, Denis Doody, displays in his office a poster of communist Cuban terrorist and revolutionary Che Guevara.
WDH’s own policies allow employees to wear religious symbols and clothing at work. After the complaint, and Atkinson’s refusal to remove the cross, the organisation banned all personal effects from company vans.
Paul Diamond, a human rights barrister and standing Counsel for the Christian Legal Centre who is representing him, said that Atkinson is under “huge pressure” from the company to comply.
Atkinson himself said he is “really shocked and surprised” by the proceedings against him. “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 discrete place and I am acting lawfully,” he said.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said the case “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?” she said.
Atkinson is also being supported by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey who called the WDH’s decision “outrageous”. ‘I salute Mr. Atkinson for his bravery and all Christians who quietly stand up for their faith,” Lord Carey said.
Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have also supported Atkinson, with Niranjan Vakhaira, President of the Hindu Charitable Trust in Leeds, West Yorks., saying, “Everybody has the right to preach their own religion”.
Vakhaira told the Daily Mail, “I don’t see how anyone can take offence at this cross, the employers are definitely in the wrong. Every human being has the right to follow his faith, as long as it doesn’t harm anybody.
“If it hasn’t harmed anybody then I don’t see the logic in telling him to remove it.’
A spokesman for the Sikh Education Council said, “We find it difficult to understand why an employer would terminate someone’s employment for having a crucifix in their vehicle.
“We suggest the employer should rethink their actions in this particular case.”
To contact Wakefield District Housing
Call: 0845 8 507 507
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