Christians take 'beliefs' fight to European Court of Human Rights

 
Nadia Eweida BA worker Nadia Eweida was sent home after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross

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Four British Christians who claim they lost their jobs as a result of discrimination against their beliefs are taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

They include an airline worker stopped from wearing a cross and a registrar who did not want to marry gay couples.

All four lost separate employment tribunals relating to their beliefs.

Secular critics have said a ruling in favour of the group could "seriously undermine" UK equality law.

A ruling is not expected from the European court for several weeks.

The cases involve:

  • Nadia Eweida, a Pentecostal Christian from Twickenham, south-west London, who was sent home by her employer British Airways in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross
  • Devon-based nurse Shirley Chaplin, who was moved to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital for similar reasons
  • Gary McFarlane, a Bristol relationship counsellor, who was sacked by Relate after saying on a training course he might have had a conscientious objection to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples
  • Registrar Lilian Ladele, who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in north London

Each individual had made a separate application to the court, but the cases are being heard together.

Miss Eweida's lawyer, James Dingemans, said her employer had permitted other religious symbols to be worn.

He said: "She was working alongside colleagues who were able to wear religious symbols and attire including the Sikh turban, the Sikh bracelet, the Muslim hijab, and the Jewish skull cap.

"It was indisputable that wearing the cross visibly did not have any detrimental effect on Miss Eweida's ability to do her job."

But a lawyer for the government, James Eadie, said employees' rights have to be limited in order to protect the rights of others.

He said: "These four linked cases at their core raise questions about the rights, and the limits to the rights, of employees to force their employers to alter employment conditions, so as to accommodate the employees' religious practices.

Analysis

British courts have found overwhelmingly against Christians, occasionally comparing their beliefs unfavourably with secular principles.

Now the issue has reached the top of the legal process, and, by making this an oral hearing, the European Court is clearly troubled by it and taking it very seriously.

Its findings will constitute a watershed moment in what has become a slow-acting, but profound, social change.

Attention will focus especially on the ruling in the cases where Christians claim they faced discrimination by being forced to provide services to gay people despite their belief that homosexual practice was wrong.

It seems likely that, whatever is decided in Strasbourg, Christians will soon have the right to wear crosses at work, but the judgement on their beliefs about homosexuality will be far-reaching.

"My submission will be that the court's jurisprudence is clear and consistent, it is to this effect the convention protects individuals' rights to manifest their religion outside their professional sphere.

"However, that does not mean that in the context of his or her employment an individual can insist on being able to manifest their beliefs in any way they choose. Other rights, other interests are in play and are to be respected."

'Right to religion'

Court documents explained that Miss Eweida and Mrs Chaplin believed the UK law has "failed adequately to protect their right to manifest their religion" which is contrary to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This article provides a right to freedom of religion, including to worship, teaching, practice and observe elements of their faith.

They also claim that previous tribunal rulings have breached Article 14 of the convention, which outlaws discrimination based on religion.

Miss Ladele also believed her right to an "effective remedy" was infringed, and Mr McFarlane claimed his right to a fair trial and right to a private life in the UK were breached.

Earlier this year, the UK's equality watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the UK tribunals had come to the correct conclusion in the cases of Miss Ladele and Mr McFarlane.

But it conceded that the courts "may not have given sufficient weight" to Article 9.

Andrew Marsh, campaign director at religious group Christian Concern, whose sister organisation Christian Legal Centre is supporting Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane, told the BBC the four could have had their beliefs respected by their employers without adversely affecting the people they serve.

"The crucial question in these cases is this: could these four individuals have been reasonably accommodated and their Christian faith respected, without detriment or damage to the rights of others - and the answer to that question is clearly yes.

"Each of them could have been reasonably accommodated without there ever being any danger of risk, significant risk to others or indeed of anyone who is entitled to a service being denied that service."

However, the National Secular Society - which campaigns against "religious privilege" - said a European court ruling in favour of the quartet would undermine UK equality law.

Society director, Keith Porteous Wood, said the group was fighting the action: "We think that if it goes the wrong way it will cause a hierarchy of right, with religion at the top, and it's going to be bad news for employers and for gay people."

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 248.

    To talk about freedom, is to talk about freedom for all or freedom for none. And that is the freedom to agree or disgree without fear or favour, which would appear to be the issues in this case. But then as a lawyer once remaked to me, "The only rights you have are those you are prepared to fight for, and those rights include the freedom of expression"

    Not bad for a lawyer.

    A. Crook

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 247.

    If you work for the government or for a public serving organization or institution that receives moneys or support from the government, then you serve everybody equally, regardless of your personal beliefs - no exception.

    If you don’t like that, then you should do a different job.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 246.

    Isn't it a tad hypocritical for Miss Ladele to claim discimination when it was she who disciminated against gay people by refusing to conduct same-sex civil partnerships? Gay people do not choose to be gay. Religious people choose to be religious. Miss Ladele chose to disciminate against people in the work place...she was disciplined. The claim of "religious freedom" is ludicrous and outdated.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 245.

    194. Diddlreypete

    "Being gay is not natural, as a quick look at the design of the human body shows."

    Er, not wanting to sound too coarse, but it does seem that plug and socket do seem to fit rather well. Indeed, an intelligent designer - especially one who was so against such couplings - would probably have designed the system so that homosexual sex was impossible.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 244.

    I'm Atheist but I hope they win. Christians get treated terribly compared to all the other faiths that we bend over backwards for in this country. Its all or nothing. Just because they tend to be white people doesn't mean they don't have a right to their religious beliefs.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 243.

    Like a Muslim or Jewish cooking instructor having to give directions for a pig roast.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 242.

    207. Bodster..."You've obviously not been down my local during and Arsenal vs Tottenham match"
    ...
    Yes the same in the SHED at Chelsea when Tottenham were playing. I was ashamed and embarrassed. David Baddiel, a Chelsea supporter, has stated he was also.see:-
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 241.

    It's wrong to discriminate someone based on their beliefs/culture. Any faith/ cultural aspect is an individuals identity. We talk about religious freedom, freedom to express, freedom of speech but in this case it shows otherwise. No offence to any other faith or practices, but some faiths are being given special considerations in this country. Don't be hypocritical, one rule for all

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 240.

    We are not being told everything in the first two cases. Ms Eweida and Mrs. Chaplin were probably violating a safety rule or at the very least proper dress in the work place with their crosses. Probably had nothing to do with their religion.
    As for the other two, what about their right to be able to equally express their views and beliefs? Clearly those who came to them did.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 239.

    The is absolutely no place for religious paraphernalia in the workplace, doubly so in public-facing jobs.

    The claim that you have a right to display your faith in the workplace is simply untrue. You have the inalienable right to practice your religion in private. You have absolutely no right to practice it in front of me.

    "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God" - Romans 14:22

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 238.

    @ quartus45 229 - "#195. 196 I've cited it many times on HYS, I'd repeat it if I thought you'd consider it with an open mind. More evidence for evolution? Don't make me laugh." - And this is why you should not be allowed to breed. We are talking factual evidence vs your heresay written gobbledygook written 2000 years ago. Doh!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 237.

    Pity certain folks have used this story to promote their hatred of Muslims. I actually think Muslims would defend freedom of religion after all they didn't make this law. But I guess the stirrers aren't interested in that. Whenever I hear the word Christian these days I usually think 'vicious bigoted hate-mongering Daily Mail reader hiding behind religion to promote intolerance'

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 236.

    @229.quartus45
    #195. 196 I've cited it many times on HYS, I'd repeat it if I thought you'd consider it with an open mind. More evidence for evolution? Don't make me laugh.

    I am agnostic, I think it is very unlikely God exists but that it is as arrogant to say he doesn't as to say he does, IMO there is no proof either way, so if you will post it again, I promise to consider it with an open mind.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 235.

    178

    " there is plenty of evidence for God, you just refuse to consider it."

    Go on then, give it to us. I need a good laugh.

    Post your evidence of God's existence. It certainly won't be physical, scientific or mathematical evidence.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 234.

    Interesting to see the negative rating of my comment #166 due to readers thinking that I was defending the registrar where it was quite the opposite. It just shows how writing "I am a Christian" makes people defensive. Can't blame though, religion didn't do us any favour.
    Personally, I think being a Christian means being fair, including to our employers. And we can always change jobs when unhappy.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 233.

    re215 rob jones-we live in a christian country

    uhhh no we don't.We used to be a christian religious country but you may want to take a drive around the rhondda to see how religious we are.A lot of churches are either abandoned,converted to homes or into a business..For the demographic of our christian country then look up the word OAP.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 232.

    Anyone who discriminates against homosexuals should be tried for inciting hatred.

    And if you're told to not wear some jewellery around your neck in the workplace, then that's the rules of the workplace. You go to work to work, you go to a church to practice your religion.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 231.

    Islington council equality policy states "Customers receive fair & equal access to council services" & that "All employees are expected to promote these values at all times & to work within the policy. Employees found to be in breach of this policy may face disciplinary action." The registrar who wouldn't perform civil partnerships was in breach of the policy. This case is a waste of time.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 230.

    The fact there are so many negative responses to the posts from Christians and others who simply want a level playing field is ample proof of the obvious anti-Christian(as opposed to other faiths) bias across this country.
    Like so many here, all I'm asking is for the same rights and freedoms as anyone else. Isn't that what so many gave their lives for in two world wars?

  • rate this
    -15

    Comment number 229.

    #97 (2 Kings 2:23-25) - "And he turned behind him and saw them, and declared them vile in the name of Jehovah. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two boys of them."

    Are you sure it was God who killed them?

    #195. 196 I've cited it many times on HYS, I'd repeat it if I thought you'd consider it with an open mind. More evidence for evolution? Don't make me laugh.

 

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