A British nurse has accused her employer of violating her religious freedom by “treating her like a criminal” after she refused to remove her cross necklace, a symbol of her Christian faith.
The Times reports Mary Onuoha, 61, a Nigerian immigrant, recently filed a lawsuit against Croydon University Hospital in London, a place where she worked for nearly 20 years.
Onuoha said hospital administrators began bullying her in 2015 after she refused to stop wearing a small gold cross necklace or cover it up under her uniform.
“All I have ever wanted is to be a nurse and to be true to my faith,” she said in a statement. “I am a strong woman, but I have been treated like a criminal. I love my job, but I am not prepared to compromise my faith for it and neither should other Christian NHS staff in this country.”
Testifying Tuesday in front of a tribunal in south London, Onuoha said she worked at the government-run hospital for 18 years and wore her cross necklace frequently on the job, according to the Christian Post.
She said the first time she was asked to remove the necklace was in 2015. Her supervisors told her that the necklace was “a breach of the Trust’s Dress Code and Uniform Policy,” according to her lawsuit.
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Onuoha said she refused, noting that the cross is a symbol of her faith and that other staff were not asked to remove their religious jewelry or other garb.
“Patients often say to me, ‘I really like your cross,’” she said. “They always respond to it in a positive way and that gives me joy and makes me feel happy. I am proud to wear it, as I know God loves me so much and went through this pain for me.”
The Christian Legal Centre, which is representing her, said the hospital “inconsistently” applied its dress code because “other nurses and members of staff frequently wearing various types of jewelry, hijabs, saris, turbans and religious bracelets in wards and theatre without being asked to remove them.”
After refusing multiple requests to remove her cross necklace, Onuoha said the hospital subjected her to a two-year investigation, suspended her and then demoted her to a receptionist position, according to the report.
She said she decided to resign from her job in 2020.
“This has always been an attack on my faith,” she said in a statement. “My cross is part of me and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm. … Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre. Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job.”
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