The British Foreign Office backed the airline. "The importation [to Saudi Arabia] and use of narcotics, alcohol, pork products and religious books, apart from the Quran (Koran), and artifacts are forbidden," it stated. The London Telegraph quoted a BMI official as saying, "We issue advice to all our staff and passengers that these are the guidelines. She is saying she wants to carry her Bible with her. We are saying we cannot start designing rules around individuals when we have several hundred members of staff. To take every personal preference into account would be impossible."
The stewardess has taken the case to an industrial (labor) court.
It is not the first time that religious practice of airline workers has been curtailed because of Saudi rules. A flight attendant working for British Airways (BA) was forbidden to wear her cross visibly on the route to Saudi Arabia.
Even Christmas trees are banned in the oil-rich kingdom, which claims to allow religious freedom. An Iowa woman wrote in the Wichita Eagle earlier this month about her experience in 2003. "Christianity was not allowed to be practiced," wrote Charlotte Brock Rady. "Shopping in the back alleys of Jeddah one night, we discovered a market that had hidden away upstairs in a dark room a small artificial Christmas tree and lights."
Another worker in the country reported that her tree was confiscated at the border.
Nevertheless, on a recent visit to Princeton University, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal declared, "Arab tradition and Muslim tradition is geared towards having an open mind. Muslim religion accepts Christianity and Judaism."
Last year, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced a teacher to 40 months in prison and 750 lashes for discussing the Bible and praising Jews.
He was charged with promoting a "dubious ideology, mocking religion, saying the Jews were right, discussing the Gospel and preventing students from leaving class to wash for prayer," according to a local newspaper report.
A report in 2005 by the U.S. State Department criticized Saudi Arabia, saying religious freedoms "are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam."