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
    +2

    Comment number 268.

    In the Sikh religion + certain forms of Islam, it is a religious requirement to wear certain items of clothing or jewellry. This is not the case for Christians. No Christian sect makes wearing a cross or crucifix mandatory. Everyone who wears one does so voluntarily.

    Making Christians follow the same rules as the rest of isn't descrimination - it's true equality.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 267.

    Religion just causes conflict, and these cases are proof of this.

    When are people going to come into the modern day and realise that ALL religions are a load of rubbish! The world would be alot calmer and more peaceful place without it!!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 266.

    If a Sihk is allowed to wear a turban and carry the 5 cermonial artifacts, why can a christian not wear a crucifix? The issue here is that other religion get their religious 'requirements' met by the judiciary but Christians, who make up the majority of religious types in the UK, do not.

    If one religious group is allowed then all must be allowed.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 265.

    Not religious myself, but why should a nurse be sent home for wearing a cross when there's usually a bible in every bedside cabinet? Religions have no right to press their beliefs on people, but what someone wears really doesn't matter.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 264.

    I'm a convinced secularist.

    However, I'm concerned about someone being sacked because he said "he might have" a conscientious objection, if that's reported correctly.

    All that means is he would need to consider it, and is completely different from saying as a fact that he did have one.

    On the face of it, it's employer zealotry, victimisation and prejudice as bad as any other.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 263.

    Pity the boss who has to decide which items are forbidden. I know what these Christians would say if. their workmates all turned up wearing Satanist talismans. Plainly this affair has been got up to protest against the supposed "aggressive secularism" in our society, as it shows a milder face (I am being persecuted) than their true agenda (I want to discriminate). More honesty please.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 262.

    I wonder what 'H&S' factors arise in the wearing of a cross round the neck, I also wonder at the superstition of anyone who needs to wear one, but I can tolerate it. If I have an appointment with a Councellor I expect advice not judgemant, If I am getting married I expect the Registrar to attend. Isn't Religion wonderful!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 261.

    232.Idra
    Anyone who discriminates against homosexuals should be tried for inciting hatred.
    ----
    What if homosexuals discriminate against heterosexuals by having rights such as civil partnerships that heterosexuals don't have ?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 260.

    194. Diddlreypete

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


    Being religious is not natural, as a quick look at the history of the world shows.

    I'd rather trust a gay person that a religious zealot any day of the week; twice on Sunday.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 259.

    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."
    -

    When you say "open mind", you mean with a confirmation bias? Please, humour us...

    And more evidence for evolution? Yes, absolutely. Over 2.5 million peer-reviewed papers and demonstrable tests prove it.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 258.

    Presumably anyone who accepts a job with an employer with a no-jewellry policy also accepts the dress code when they sign their contract?
    Having any particular form of religious belief does not entitle an individual to select which rules/laws they are going to observe, or to pick and mix which bits of the job they are going to do.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 257.

    194. Diddlreypete
    "Being gay is not natural"

    Are you saying God made a mistake?!!!
    Are we not all his children & he made us all the way we are - in HIS image?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 256.

    @230

    'all I'm asking is for the same rights and freedoms as anyone else.'

    Christians already have them, what your griping about is not being able to extend your own personal beliefs onto the legal system to accommodate your own sentiments.

    The argument is not about religion or its persecution as so many Christians claim, this is about those Christians not wanting to accept the law of the land.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 255.

    I doubt if the same was applied to a Sikh wearing a turban or a Muslim with a long beard and hit hat, what could have been the outcome. When it comes to Christians anything is granted. I belive govts position in this should be reconsidered.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 254.

    This is just too harsh! Surely there was room for compromise in the majority of these cases? I believe in gay marriage,am agnostic but I'm not convinced this was the right stance. Someone raises a doubt about marrying a gay couple... why couldn't they give him an opportunity to broaden his mind. Peoples views can change in time if they are given the opportunity rather than just writing them off.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 253.

    Its discrimination against me to disallow me the same rights to show and exercise MY belief system, however since my beliefs do not fit in with any organized religion, no one cares.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 252.

    @236

    It is not arrogance to support evolution over a creationist sky god, as it is intuitive that you cannot prove a negative.

    If your personal belief was that there is a teapot orbiting Mars, would I be arrogant to consider you deluded, illogical or just plain stupid?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 251.

    230. Bedinog ..."all I'm asking is for the same rights and freedoms as anyone else."

    And you have them Bedinog, it just seems that some of your co-religionists seem to think they should have more rights and freedoms than the rest of us.

  • Comment number 250.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 249.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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