British Airways faced a backlash tonight over an "extremely offensive" ruling banning a Christian employee from wearing a cross around her neck.
Heathrow check-in worker Nadia Eweida claims she was effectively "forced" to take unpaid leave after refusing to remove or conceal the symbol, which is about the size of a five pence piece.
Meanwhile, the airline said that items such as turbans, hijabs and bangles could be worn "as it is not practical for staff to conceal them beneath their uniforms".
Miss Eweida, 55, who has been with BA for seven years, plans to sue her employer - who she considered to be "a very reputable company" - for religious discrimination.
The airline, now facing a call for Christians to be boycott it, was accused of "double standards".
John Andrews, communications officer for the Diocese of Bath and Wells said: "I think BA are being extremely offensive to members of the Christian faith."
He continued: "It would be a great shame if Christians are prevented from demonstrating their own faith... It is a basic human right.
"If she is wearing it as a symbol of her Christian faith she should be allowed to do it.
"It is rather more than an ornament. It is more than an item of jewellery."
Anglican Communion press officer Canon James Rosenthal said that crosses adorn churches around the world and "many Christians find wearing or carrying a cross something very important to them.
"I'm happy to know that BA understands that the cross is more than a piece of jewellery but I'm shocked to think that someone would be asked to remove it from their person," he said.
Miss Eweida said she had just undergone training on respecting and understanding other people's beliefs with BA when she was asked to remove the cross.
She sought permission to wear it from management, but this was not forthcoming.
Miss Eweida, from Twickenham, West London, wears the cross because of her deeply-held religious beliefs.
She is from an Egyptian background and attends Pentecostal as well as Arabic churches.
Tory MP Ann Widdecombe warned that if BA had not reversed its "crazy" policy by Monday evening, she would cut up her BA executive club card and would not use the airline in future unless there was no other alternative.
She told Sky News that Christians should not "sit back and take this" and Christians who normally used BA should now look for an alternative.
She said it was Christians who were not allowed to demonstrate faith, give their views, or wear their emblems.
"It's we who are being persecuted," she said.
Respect leader George Galloway told Sky News: "It is about time this hysteria was dampened down, let people wear what they want to wear, let religions dress according to how they think their religion requires them to dress, let a thousand flowers bloom.
"Get off people's case, get off their back, because this kind of scapegoating and witchhunting is going to end in tears and blood, believe me."
He continued: "BA must bring this woman back to work right now, compensate her and apologise to her and then explain to the rest of us what twisted thought mechanism at this sensitive time when blood is boiling everywhere, when women are being attacked in streets and mosques are being attacked and firebombed and Muslims are feeling hunted, that such a stupid thing could be done."
No Muslim would ever complain about a Christian wearing a cross, he said.
The issue of Muslim and Christian dress generally is, "disturbingly, alarmingly, frighteningly getting out of control, that's why I said to you if we don't stop this, this is going to end in blood and tears."
Mark Stephens, a partner in law firm Finers, Stephens Innocent, said BA was the only company he was aware of who had taken this "extraordinary step" and that a "double standard" was being applied.
"It shows a degree of intolerance which is very un-British, by British Airways," he said.
He accused the company of being "out of step" with employment law and discrimination law.
"You must treat staff fairly and in compliance with the law," he said, adding: "This is an area which both lawyers and trade unions will be looking at."
Deputy Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, Miss Eweida's MP, said of BA: "They are just being very bureaucratic and very inflexible.
"For a commercial business this is not good enough."
Miss Eweida is receiving advice from religious rights barrister Paul Diamond.
It will be argued that as a secular organisation, BA should not be determining what is a "religious truth" and that the company is acting in a discriminatory way in that its policy towards Christians is not consistent with other religions.
A BA spokeswoman emphasised that Miss Eweida has not been suspended from work.
She said the matter remained under investigation and an appeal was due to be heard some time next week.
She said BA recognises that uniformed employees may wish to wear jewellery including religious symbols.
"Our uniform policy states that these items can be worn, underneath the uniform. There is no ban.
"This rule applies for all jewellery and religious symbols on chains and is not specific to the Christian cross."
The TGWU is supporting Miss Eweida's case.