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 728.

    Gary MacFarlane in his radio interview said he could deal with people having unmarried sex as long as they weren't gay. Why should gay people have to suffer bigotry because of this man's beliefs? Why do these people feel that their beliefs mean they are not subject to the same rules as everyone else?

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    I wore a cross every day to work and I had several types of job. I wore it under my shirt and if anyone ever asked if I were a christain I answered yes. Whats the problem with that. We should not be discriminating against anyone but I suppose that is where the Right excells...stigmatisation and discrimination. People would take to christianity more if we practiced what Jesus said and taught.

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    @481.Rodney sorry I meant Romney
    Your point?????????
    Talk about off topic but your post stays up, good old beeb, always backing the PC route!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    @710 You are correct. I believe there are only a handful of scholars in the entire world that would claim Jesus never existed and those that do generally get laughed out of scholarly debate. However, I might posit the thought that most peoples views of his miracles are based more on their own desires and preconceptions than reality. If God exists and Jesus is God as He said, miracles ARE possible?

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    This is a clear example of why the United Kingdom has become so marginalized on the world stage. They have allowed politicians and judges with no moral fiber to run the nation for the past 2 - 3 decades. Margaret Thatcher was the last British leader with any real backbone. People simply need spirituality in their lives. China is just now discovering this and loosening the strings on religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    "702. ghallid

    Where does this Jesus guy get a mention in any histories ever written... please do not give me the Bible as an example of an historical document."
    Why not give you the Bible as an example. The New Testament is demonstrably a first century middle eastern document wholly or mostly written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. If thats an inconvenient truth thats your problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    //Mike from Brum
    If the employer had caved in, someone else would have complained about the special treatment of the Christian.
    HR is a nightmare../// is now, because multiculturalism doesn't work. Obvious and foreseeable, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    @692 JOHN
    you are quite correct in saying that cross wearing isn't part of religious faith and isn't mentioned in the Bible, but there again neither is wearing a Hijab part of Islam, and is not mentioned in the Koran, which merely states that both men and women should dress modestly. We will probably not follow the example of France in banning it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    Christians seem to throwing a collective hissy fit at the moment.

    I guess they're upset that secular society has rejected their irrational attempts to police what consenting adults get up to.


  • rate this

    Comment number 719.


    if you want special compensations, with forced marriage, female genital mutilation, honour killings Barbaric slaughter of animals a demand for a 5 th century law codes, and system that allows non Muslim to be seen as fair game for sex. where garb such as a full vial is promoted & enclaves are set up, a sort of state within a state
    in a plural 21 st century democracy. that's it..

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    >>There is a sole exemption for the Sikh bangle because their religion states they must wear it at all times

    Sikh are also required by their religion to bear a GABBER all the time, no exceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    So, come on then Cameron & co; how about a bit of support for your employers? Just to explain in case you've forgotten, I mean the citizens of GB. We are the silent majority and we won't be taking this kind of treatment for very much longer, because we appear to be waking up to this blatant discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    667.Philip C
    "It's time to ditch the tired argument that every single atrocity ever carried out was in the name of religion"

    Exactly who makes that claim? The point is when a religious person commits an evil act it is both hypocritical and evil (to say the least), but when a non-religious persons does commits an evil act it's just evil. Full stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    I'm sure someone's pointed this out already, but an employer would never DARE tell a Muslim to remove their face-veil despite their being no Koranic evidence that they must wear it, same as a Christian religious symbol. Maybe UK would be a better place if all religions just grew up and kept their faith private?

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    To all those people saying "but Sikh's are allowed to wear turbans ...", the salient point is that a turban is a religious requirement for Sikhism whereas the cross isn't a requirement for Christianity - even the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that.

    Eweida/Chaplin broke their employer's dress code - end of story.

    The other pair are beneath contempt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.


    I don't see the difference between the hot dogs and ceremony, both are not fulfilling your job role.

    Also, most registry offices only have a handful of registras, therefore may not have the resource to cover having one that will not perform certain ceremonies therefore are justified in requiring someone who will perform all types of ceremony that they are legaly required to cover.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    685.Philip Osborne - " people in partnership is an exercise of her religious freedom."

    The bible says nothing whatsoever about gay civil partnerships, being as they hadn't been invented back then......ergo on what basis were her religious rights being discriminated against.......oh, they weren't she just annoyed at not being allowed to be the one doing the discriminating.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Yet more old testamont bashers with an axe to grind. Im christain, on the left and see Jesus as the Saviour not the brutal morality of the old. Christ came not to change the laws but to fullfil them. I guess the Chrsitain right just cant see that so blind are they. I see gays as fellow humans covered by the love Jesus said we had to have with each other. Its whats in our hearts that counts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    Graham - Agreed, there may have been a man named Jesus in Nazareth around that time, a radical free-thinker who the Romans killed for being an outspoken free-spirit, but he most certainly wasn't born of a virgin, wasn't the son of any "God", and definitely couldn't perform fish-based magic tricks... My characterisation may have been a little wide of the mark, but you get my point...

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.


    There was a time when homosexuals were locked up, discriminated against and put in concentration camps. Now the extreme elements of this lobby want to do the same to the Christians.
    What a load of bull. Your comment disrespects all those murdered in the Nazi death camps and you ought to be thoroughly ashamed for making such a fatuous remark.


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