Britain: Red Cross gets it wrong on “neutrality”

image002Bryan Barkley was dismissed by the British Red Cross after 18 years’ service as a volunteer, for holding up a sign saying “No Same Sex Marriage”.

Read the report in the Daily Mail, Saturday, 1 November 2014

Mr Barkley helped track down missing persons and reunite families torn apart by conflict. Earlier this year he was invited to attend the British Red Cross garden party at Buckingham Palace.

The Red Cross wrote to Mr Barkley calling him to a meeting to discuss whether his views on same-sex marriage were “in line” with their “neutral” position.

In March of this year Mr Barkley held up a sign outside Wakefield Cathedral with the words “No Same Sex Marriage”. This was in his own time, entirely unconnected with his Red Cross work.

His opportunity to volunteer with the Red Cross was withdrawn on the grounds that Mr Barkley’s position was not “compatible” with the movement’s fundamental principles and values. The dismissal was stated to be “permanently and with immediate effect”.

Upon reading this news, one is left to wonder what precisely the Red Cross understands by “neutrality”. Does it mean that volunteers working for the Red Cross must not be seen expressing their opinions in public on any subject, or does it only apply to the specific issue of same-sex “marriages”? Is there any example of someone facing the same sanction for holding up a sign with the words “Yes to Same Sex Marriage”? If not, how can the Red Cross claim to have a “neutral” position on the issue?

And how would such a policy, which in the best case would be a gagging order for both supporters and opponents of same-sex “marriage, be compatible to the volunteers’ freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights?