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 668.

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

    Which is entirely down to the country, as you (sort of) mention. You don't have to look very far to see the church complicit in the suppression of protest and free expression. Russia springs to mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    "616. Thrud

    Like it or not we are a secular state it helps avoid all those issues with religious genocide we had in the past"
    Such as the religious genocides carried out by Lenin Stalin Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung for example. Being a humanistic secular state is no guarantee of utopia. It's time to ditch the tired argument that every single atrocity ever carried out was in the name of religion

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    The first two persons in the list in the article refused to comply with the reasonable instructions of their employer. As far as I know, the Christian religion does not demand the wearing of any symbols. They could have complied with the employer's requirements (which they must have known) but chose not to do so.

    The other two acted according to their beliefs and must take the consequences.

  • Comment number 665.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    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.//

    And that applies equally to crosses as to turbans and headscarves, ringlets, niqab etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    I do feel sorry for the Christian faith.

    They get pilloried like no other. It's fair game to attack them in any way you want. Mind you, they are to meek for their own good.

    Try telling Muslims not to be so religious. See how far that gets you.

    There certainly is one rule for some and not for others in today's world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.


    Looks like we are worrying the moderators. Bit too grown up for the BBC HYS?

    And just in case anyone thinks otherwise - no it's not acceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    It's interesting to compare the tone of this article, which appears to support the total secularisation of society at the expense of any religious right, with this other article which appeared this week: which celebrates the return of the headscarf to Egyptian TV after being banned for many years by the previous secular government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    Don't use religious lunacy to justify discrimination... It seems to be acceptable to refuse to conduct civil partnerships for example on the grounds of religion... why?! Could someone refuse to serve black people in a restaurant because of their religion? Clearly not. Let's not confuse these issues- discrimination is unacceptable in our society. Full stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    Whatever the merits of the individual cases, in reality the United Kingdom would rather give way to almost any other religion than acknowledge the faith of evangelical Christians. If a Sikh can wear a turban, why can't a Christian have a cross? It's absurd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    637 deleted.

    I've had my previous comment removed for being 'off topic'. And I have to agree. However, hopefully this will be allowed?

    My friends are my friends because I like them as a person and I like to spend time with them. Not because society has decided to 'badge' them up in some way. This debate about what's natural shouldn't even happen. If it feels natural then it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    It would be best and I am a big supporter of this . That ( No ) religious trappings or garb can be worn in public.
    This in the best traditions of fairness and equality.. :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    I think I was misunderstood regarding my view on the clerk refusing the civil ceremony to the gay couple. The clerk should have performed the ceremony. That couple would be no more and no less joined in the eyes of the state than a man and a woman who came through the same queue. If a church chooses to bless it, that is the decision of that church's leaders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    Big hoohaa about gay marriage in church.
    Why is it that those shouting loudest are those who would NEVER go to church?
    Why is it that christians MUST
    Lets try having your LGBT wedding at your local mosque or synagogue.

    Are christians are targets in uk because they are 'indiginous'?
    Islam and Judaism would kick secular ass straight to hades if they were told how they should worship

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    630. teamzone
    ...we are far too soft in this country and should be proud of our beliefs. Yet we allow ourselves to be imposed on by other religions. Absolute madness

    On the contrary that we allow ANY religion to impose itself on us as a society is the true madness here

    We should be proud that we live in a society where ALL are equal before the law regardless of race, creed, gender or sexuality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    ALASDAIR@612 Individuals must have freedom of religion.

    Yes just look what is happening in Belfast with their Bands and Parades through religion.
    Throw them all to the lions

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    "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 "

    fair point, but this topic is about Christian faith taking legal action alone, so it is legitimate to question this singular religion specifically here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    It seems to me these are two separate issues, both revolving around discrimination. The person who wore the cross to work was discriminated against; the person refusing to marry a same-sex couple was discriminating against them. Are Christians really so arrogant as to say "we don't mind discrimination, as long as it isn't against us"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 650.

    609.Philip C
    "The crusades and the inquisition were both politically motivated power grabbing not real Christianity."

    Who represented "real christianity" at the time? And what is "real christianity" anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    would these rules of no religious items also cover Muslim women wearing head scarfs? or Sikhs wearing turbans? i think its fair if they ban all religious items but only banning some and not others is not fair at all.


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