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.


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

    Comment number 608.

    IMWO, anyone who objects to a Christian symbol - is evil.
    Christianity brought the world out of the dark ages and sets people free.
    No use hiding it away now.
    Judges who give these stupid rulings should be sacked.
    EU referendum needed now to end this discrimination against Christianity & those who wear its symbols.
    Displaying Christian symbols reminds us of our true British values.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    568. Philip C

    That's a two way argument. Atheists think their rules apply to us."

    What, the rule of law? Why would they not apply to you? you're not special that you can be exempt because you have an undemonstrable faith.

  • Comment number 606.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Im not anti-muslim nor slandering them so bear that in mind before trying to censor this comment. By all reports it seems that in any western nation muslims dont have this problem as this wouldnt be an issue for muslim employees. Their needs and restrictions are catered for regardless. Often Christian workers who stand up for their beliefs are treated shabbily at work. A double standard seemingly

  • Comment number 604.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    551. Seeker Of Truth

    Ofcourse feel free to do everything you want.

    I'm not here judging. If you want to know how the discern christians from so-called christian then my answer is:
    Easy, go grab a bible and read all you can on Jesus' life. That will give you enough knowledge to discern justly. And yes, there are still lots of loving Jesus-following people out there! And they are increasing too!!1

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    573 Mr Max.

    The fact is that they were all Humanists and Stalin was a cold humanist. In 1938 the Nazi Party made Humanism a requirement of belonging the the SS. In fact in the last 100 years vastly more people have been murdered by Humanists than in all the "religious" wars for the last 1500 years. Glass houses, glass houses and as Jesus said, Bless your enemies, so Bless you all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    The clerk who was sacked for refusing to perform a civil ceremony for a homosexual couple; As a Christian, a civil ceremony is not a Marriage. A Marriage is a Sacrament that is blessed and sanctified. A civil union is paperwork. The difference is very important and should not be ignored by the Church, the state, the clerk or the couple (regardless of sex).

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    I assume those Christians who object to offering a service as part of their job to gay people would have no such objection to gay people not offering their services in return because they are Christian? Or does it only work one way with them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    Seculists should make sure they listen to all religions whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish. This will lead to a much better society where ones religion is not seen as a barrier to communication with the public. Also it would improve relations between seculists and theists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    I am absolutely in favour of the Human Rights Act, but not when it is hijacked by such issues as this – it is supposed to be there to rule on issues of international importance not minor aspects of national employment law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    I agree with getting rid of the ones who were trying to convert gay people and who refused to marry a same-sex couple. The ones who were wearing their crosses were simply wearing jewelry as an outward sign of their faith and should have been allowed to continue working.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    If a relationship councellor cannot relate to the patients due to confloct of interests then thats what it is - a conflict of interests.
    Pretty much cant help because he cant!

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    I just hope my tax money is not paying for this ridiculous waste of the court's time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    "How can a heterosexual provide sexual advice to a homosexual couple at all?"

    I've racked my brain, and I really can't think of any sexual advice that isn't terrible which isn't transposable between homo and hetero couples. Unless you plan on mentioning Original Sin a lot I just don't see the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    Just now

    I find all these people ridiculing and being aggressive towards people who believe in the spiritual foundations of this culture quite worrying. Britain went around the world converting indigenous people to this faith. At least respect it here!


  • rate this

    Comment number 592.


    You don't get to dictate to people what their religious requirements are, there are thousands of branches of Christianity, some so different they may as well not share the same name, and for some the wearing of a cross is of a deep cultural importance.

    The same law for all is vital, either people can wear religious clothing or they can't, the government must make up it's mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    578.The Bloke - "....But if crucifixes are banned, then religious headscarves, turbans etc have to be, as well.

    Otherwise, this is very clear proof of there being one rule for some, and another for others...."

    Not all, crosses haven't been banned on BA, only jewelery.....the fact it's a cross has nothing whatsoever to do with......

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    It's strange how many liberals are so intolerant towards Christian's but not other religions.

    But then again many Christians behave in a very unchristian manner too.

    So good luck to the European Court to work this one out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    I have no sympathy with christians bleating about their plight when they use their faith to disadvantage others e.g. by refusing to perform gay marriages. On the other hand 1000s of people wear a cross at work and few of them are religious, for most it's a piece of jewellery, much as I wear Celtic jewellery. Either way, I hope this bunch of christians get short shrift from the ECHR?


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