Muslims give backing to Christian electrician persecuted for cross in van
By Nick Fagge
Last updated at 1:24 AM on 20th April 2011
* Council boss has Che Guevara poster on office wall
Prohibited: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are supporting Colin Atkinson after a row over his crucifix threatened his job
Hindu, Muslim and Sikh leaders last night offered support to electrician Colin Atkinson who faces the sack for making a stand over his Christian beliefs.
The religious leaders joined former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to demand that the 64-year-old grandfather be allowed to mark Easter by displaying a tiny palm cross in his work van.
Mr Atkinson has been thrown out of his workplace and fears he will lose his job at Wakefield District Housing (WDH) because he refuses to remove the cross.
Christian leaders have condemned his treatment as ‘scandalous’.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey described Mr Atkinson’s case as ‘an outrage’.
And last night Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs added their voices to the uproar.
Niranjan Vakhaira, President of the Hindu Charitable Trust in Leeds, West Yorks., said: ‘Everybody has the right to preach their own religion.
‘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.’
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, of the Muslim Institute, said: ‘I can’t see any problem at all in displaying this symbol.
‘I can’t see how this would offend anybody.
‘I really don’t think people should become so touchy about these things.
‘You have to respect other people’s feelings and beliefs.’
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.
‘Sikhs believe in freedom of expression and freedom of belief with respect.
‘As long as what someone is doing is doing it with respect for other people we would support their right to practice as they see fit.’
WDH bosses claim they are trying to hammer out a compromise with Mr Atkinson that will allow him to practice his faith at work with dignity.
But one, Environment Manager Denis Doody, was arrested by police after he assaulted a Daily Mail photographer covering the story.
Mr Doody has a poster of communist revolutionary Che Guevara on the wall of his office.
And a Muslim clerical worker at WDH headquarters has a Koranic verse hanging in the windscreen of the car she uses for work.
Pious: Colin’s ordeal began last year after bosses received an anonymous letter claiming tenants may be offended by the 8-inch cross in the van
Last night WDH chief executive Kevin Dodd maintained it was “unacceptable” for Mr Atkinson to have the Christian cross on display in his work van as it was crucial for the organisation to maintain ‘neutrality’.
But WDH executive director of people Gillian Pickersgill added she was powerless to stop the Muslim worker displaying the Koranic verse.
She told the Daily Mail: “Our corporate policy is that there can be no personal items displayed in company vehicles.
“We advise our managers that they should not display personal items in their cars when they use them for work purposes but we cannot enforce this. These are their own cars.”
Last night WDH was accused of rank hypocrisy.
Former Home Office Minister and devout Christian Ann Widdecombe said: ‘This is proof positive that WDH are anti-Christian rather than neutral.
‘Where is the difference between the cross for a Christian and a verse from the Koran for a Muslim.’
Mike Judge from the Christian Institute said: ‘The injustice is plain to everyone except the equality bureaucrats.
‘This is proof positive that Wakefield District Housing are anti-Christian’
‘The company will allow an Islamic burka but not a Christian cross.
‘When it comes to equality Christians are pushed out into the cold.
‘This latest example shows the anti-Christian bias at WDH.’
Colin’s ordeal began last year after bosses received an anonymous letter claiming tenants may be offended by the 8-inch cross in the van.
He refused to remove it and was accused of rejecting a ‘reasonable’ management complaint.
Mr Atkinson and his Unite union rep had argued there was nothing in company rules prohibiting the cross. Hindu and Sikh colleagues appeared as witnesses in his defence.
WDH promotes its inclusive policies and allows employees to wear religious symbols – including burkas – at work.
But it changed company policy on Christmas Eve last year banning all personal effects in its vehicles.
In January Mr Atkinson was reported for continuing to display the cross in the van and last week WDH concluded he had breached company rules.
The electrician says he expects to lose his job.