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
    +12

    Comment number 708.

    687. “Now try being discriminated against for being white or male. Happens a lot in this country.”

    As a white gay male, I have never experienced any discrimination for being white or male. Maybe my gayness cancelled it out or something.

    I know discrimination looks appealing from the outside, but I promise you, you wouldn’t like it as much as you think.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 707.

    676.planetbloo
    3 Minutes ago
    "a humanist symbol or a Darwin fish perhaps to demonstrate my anti-religious feelings"

    Yeah, why not - is anyone sayng that you can't?

    I wonder if employees of Etihad Air are allowed to wear United badges? Or Emirates THFC scarves? Oh, some would argue that that is a real religion!

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 706.

    The freedom of Christians are under threat today. Unless we win the battle for freedom today, it will be somebody else's turn tomorrow. Eventually, it will be YOUR freedom that is attacked. You have been warned!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 705.

    With regards to wearing a necklace I think if necklaces were banned at work then that is fine, but if the content of the necklace is the only issue then it is descrimination. I wear a St. Christopher and would be very upset if I had to take it off because it is personally significant to me, it just happens to be a religious symbol. I have also worn a cross but it got very stared at so I stopped!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 704.

    Why does the BBC insist on seeking comments on topics like this, which just lead to a never ending circle of dull religion/gay/atheist bashing nonsense? Surely you'd rather be discussing whether cat owners should be allowed to eat rare lamb whilst changing the litter tray!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 703.

    "657. Nemesis of Socialism is Nigh

    It would be best ... that (No) religious trappings or garb can be worn in public. This in the best tradition of fairness and equality.
    ___________
    Fairness and equality that is unless you are a member of a religious group and it impinges upon your right to freedom of expression!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 702.

    @688

    Where (apart from a very ambiguous reference by Tacitus (who was flowery and vague at best with a pro-Agricola agenda)) does this Jesus guy get a mention in any histories ever written?...and please do not give me the Bible as an example of an historical document.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 701.

    It seems that some people seem to be missing the whole point of the story by saying that these people were acting contrary to current UK law (or employment guidelines) therefore simply because of that, they deserved to be dismissed. The whole point of the story is their position that these laws or guidelines are unfair and descriminatory and aught to be challenged.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 700.

    "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."

    No one needed to be pilloried here.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 699.

    The European Human Rights provisions, like the UN Charter on Human Rights are NOT WORTH THE PAPER THEY ARE WRITTEN ON, as you would realise if bothered to read them.

    They both have 'conveniently vague' exceptions clauses, though in this particular case, much like the Dutch banning "smoking coffee shop" tourists, is selective-enforcement at it's very worst.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 698.

    If your religion requires you to wear an outward symbol, eg a turban, then you should be allowed to wear it. Christianity does not require you to wear a symbol, therefore your employers rules prevail.

    And please stop referring to Britain as a Christian country - it didn't start as one and is no longer one, thankfully

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 697.

    Just another stupid law suit brought to you by ambulance chasers. This case....4 people who think their very existence makes a difference...wrong.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 696.

    517.deleted
    Thank you. Its re-assuring to know that some people out there know what a debate is, & how not to over react to what in all honesty was not an offensive post. You do not agree with my views, which is good because thats how debates happen & if that is stymied, then we really will descend into an Orwellian nightmare. Anyway, cant say too much, might get cut off again!!!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 695.

    //Sean Hennelly
    Could someone refuse to serve black people in a restaurant because of their religion? discrimination is unacceptable in our society. Full stop.//

    No. We 'discriminate' against paedophiles, nazis etc. We have to. It's ensuring that the discrimination is fair and justified that is the issue.
    And why assume blacks are victims of discrimination?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 694.

    Being sacked for wearing a cross is ridiculous; complaining about being sacked as a registrar for not marrying gay couples is even more ridiculous. That is your job.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 693.

    What is the more dangerous item to have on your person, a knife or a cross? I have yet to hear of a Sikh being persecuted for carrying his religious symbol, the kirpan knife.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 692.

    Wearing a cross symbol isn't part of the Christian faith and the wearing of such isn't even suggested in the Bible. However, some people feel it is part of their personal approach to Christian belief. You can't be intolerant of such belief whilst advocating tolerance.
    Tolerance is for all or none !

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 691.

    Haha. Just had my comment removed for recommending a good alternative use of the Olympic Stadium.

    Honestly, it's one rule for the Christians and another for the lions...

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 690.

    @650 You would have to look at the new Testament and see what Jesus said/did and then you would have a much better idea. Unfortunately people don't tend to do that and base their views and culture and what they have been brought up believing :( Then decide if you believe it yourself :-)

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 689.

    I think the cross issue is being misrepresented.
    The issue was that it was jewellery not a religious symbol.
    The jewellery was not allowed, and that applied to everyone.
    The woman appeared to expect special treatment from everyone else because she was a Christian.
    If the employer had caved in, someone else would have complained about the special treatment of the Christian.
    HR is a nightmare.

 

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