Government ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross, reports the Sunday Telegraph.

It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.

A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a requirement of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.

The Strasbourg case hinges on whether human rights laws protect the right to wear a cross or crucifix at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

The Christian women bringing the case, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbols.

They want the European Court to rule that this breached their human right to manifest their religion. The Government’s official response states that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.

Lawyers for the two women claim that the Government is setting the bar too high and that “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.

However, the National Secular Society has argued that there is, in fact no ban on wearing crosses at work. It said:

“The NHS trust’s uniform and dress code prohibits front-line staff from wearing any type of necklace – be that a crucifix or a lucky pixie – in case patients try to grab them.

“This wasn’t about persecuting Christians it was about health and safety.”

It adds:

“But we should bear in mind that of all the cases that have been taken to court – the hotel owners who wouldn’t rent a double room to a gay couple, the nurse who wanted to invite her patients to pray, the Relate counsellor who wouldn’t counsel gay couples, the list is endless – none of them, not a single one of them, has succeeded.

“And that’s not because the courts are “Christianophobic” as former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey claims, it is because the cases had no merit.”