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
    +1

    Comment number 628.

    602. Tony Martin
    _
    "The fact is that they were all Humanists and Stalin was a cold humanist."
    -

    So? They were all men as well. You've found an irrelevant correlation and decided causation.

    -
    "In 1938 the Nazi Party made Humanism a requirement of belonging the the SS."
    -

    That's a complete lie. Considering it was associated with Communism, it doesn't even make sense.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 627.

    Silverwolf - No, not if their employment contract says differently. Imagine if I started turning up for work dressed as Batman, claiming it's my religious right to do so - I would expect to be hauled over the coals by my employer and probably sacked - it's an employment law issue, not a religious one... These self-righteous God-botherers with their magic Jesus-book are MAKING it a religious issue.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 626.

    Where do we stop with this one - can a gay couple who have been denied counselling, because the councillor objects to doing his job on religious grounds, take their case to the ECHR because they are being discriminated against because of someone else’s religious beliefs?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 625.

    I think refusing to allow someone to wear a cross is going too far. No employer should have that kind of control over an employee, and if a Christian wishes to wear their cross they should be allowed to.
    However if you are employed to do a job, such as social services, and your religious beliefs prohibit you from doing that job, then you are in the wrong job.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 624.

    //pdavies65
    Do you want racist surgeons refusing to operate on blacks? Or misogynist lifeguards leaving women to drown? //

    Very revealing of your own racism and sexism that you assume racists are white (presumably) and sexists are men....

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 623.

    @608

    It was called the Dark Ages because Christianity has unlimited power over the people...Whether through Royalty or the Church itself.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 622.

    @611. Mayna

    Questions are one thing but picking on one religion because it will not fight back outside the law whilst leaving one whose reputation indicates that it will is another

    @620 The fact remains that in this country you can feel safe outside a church while you fully express your opinions........

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 621.

    So people that wear 'special' clothing because their religion say so is that also up for discussion or are we simply crucifying the Christians?
    I saw a woman employee wearing a religious head scarf in McDonalds the other day surely this is wrong too?whats the point in a uniform if some are allowed to flout the rules?
    Its not just Christians who need to take a good hard look at themselves I think!

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 620.

    "If you feel it is OK to criticize Christians on this site go and do the same to Muslims outside a mosque if you dare, otherwise back under your bridges trolls."

    A mosque is not a website comments section.

    A website comments section is not a church.

    Looks like you want special treatment for Christianity to me, if you think that everywhere that isn't a mosque is their "turf".

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 619.

    Not religious but seems daft when we've got people wearing burhkas and turbans that a cross is unacceptable - crackers.
    Why hasn't Cameron & Co jumped in with all that common sense - where's Farage on this....why's it left to ECHR

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 618.

    @574 Mayna And that's where we come down to the question, should ANY contract supersede a person's religious views or should ALL contracts allow for some measure of religious difference? I am a Jehovah's Witness, I have worked in schools, I helped with their Christmas displays, but I sat out of the actual Christmas celebrations. I did all I could, but should I have still been forced to join in?

  • Comment number 617.

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

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 616.

    Like it or not, we are a secular state (it helps avoid all those issues with religious genocide we had in the past). That means that if you are happy to get paid from the public purse, then you must fit in with the requirements of the public office which you hold. If your religion prevents you from doing so, resign.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 615.

    565. pdavies65
    Actualy most racism is directed at whites but yes I would like surgeons who are racists not to be operating on the object of their irrational hatred.

    As for the lifeguards we already see gender discrimination happening to accomodate Muslims, no complaints about that on here though and no one been hauled in front of truibunals for it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 614.

    547 Mr Max, you mean the same Catholic Church as led by Archbishop von Galen, who's sermons from the pulpit of Muenster Cathedral during WW2 were so scathing of Hitler and his regime that the RAF used their texts in leaflet drops over Germany during WW2?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 613.

    Make it fair - either ban all religous symbols etc in the workplace or don't. I am allowed to wear what I want at work which is good considering that here we have a man with a turban and a muslim with a headscarf. Therefore I would be up in arms if I was not allowed to dress Goth as that is MY WAY OF LIFE. Anyway Goths have more to do with how this country developed than Islam or Sikhism do.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 612.

    Individuals must have freedom of religion. However, where beliefs lead individuals to refuse to carry out duties that are part of their job, it is right that disciplinary action should follow. Having been through the disciplinary procedure up to a formal employment tribunal, their cases have had a significant hearing and their arguments heard. In a democracy, rights and duties have to be balanced.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 611.

    606.bangers64
    " If you feel it is OK to criticize Christians on this site go and do the same to Muslims outside a mosque if you dare, otherwise back under your bridges trolls"

    If I were a troll I would ask "Why, cant your religion withstand a few questions?"

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 610.

    @586.markthesensible

    Being natural and being socially/culturally acceptable are two different things.

    E.G. Humans killing each other for whatever reason has been going on since the dawn of time. It is natural, but not now acceptable.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 609.

    "573. Mr Max

    532. Philip C
    Lenin, Stalin Pol Pot & Mao Tse Tung were all motivated by Athiesm!"
    ---
    To imply that they were exclusively motivated by Atheism is disingenuous. Unlike the crusades or the inquisition""
    ---
    The crusades and the inquisition were both politically motivated power grabbing not real Christianity. I think you need to consider how disingenuous you may be yourself Mr Max.

 

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