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 808.

    This case is vital as the government is determined to hand over more and more public services to religious organisations. We could all find ourselves being discriminated against by religious bigots when we are trying to access services we are fully entitled to. If your religion of choice forbids you from fulfilling your work contract, don't take the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    .Doctor Bob

    good question following on from the BBC breakthrough in Egypt TV presenters must wear vials. while the Gay lobby get all heated up about the church if they have had a quite look over their shoulders and the advancing ( fully backed by U.K. Govnt & BBC ) Islamification of the U.K. The language I hear from Muslim around here about gays would not be out of place in Sobibor !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    Why are people bothered by others talking about their religious beliefs? Why should they have to keep it secret? Why not discuss things openly? It certainly doesn't bother me if someone has an opinion based on what they believe. I'm sure they don't expect everyone to agree with them either. Just let them believe it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    800. Paul

    Paul's letters were written about half way through the first century. Within living memory of Jesus. What he wrote shows that he knew the stories which the biographies of Mark, Matthew, John and Luke recounted in more detail.
    What about the 4th century re-write and various others since?

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    ...Religion is a private matter and should be practised privately.

    Should that then also apply to the BA staff who wore the Sikh turban, the Sikh bracelet, the Muslim hijab, and the Jewish skull cap. What is the difference to the woman who wanted to wear a cross.

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    If a Christian wears a decent cross- it becmes a religious symbol and can be banned.

    But if somebody displays a cross in a gaudy indecent manner on a stage (which offends Christians), then it is not a religious symbol and cannot be banned! How funny!

  • rate this

    Comment number 802.

    @772.3rdBook - The Policemen would still be reprimanded and possibly lose his job for failing to perform his duty. So both actions are unacceptable to employers. No difference.

    And if you think that everybody would applaud him, you've not been reading HYS long enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 801.

    The workplace should be a faith-free zone.Keep it to yourself until you get home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 800.

    783. FreeCitizen
    What witnesses? These stories weren't witnessed first-hand, but retold for at least a century."

    Paul's letters were written about half way through the first century. Within living memory of Jesus. What he wrote shows that he knew the stories which the biographies of Mark, Matthew, John and Luke recounted in more detail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    I wonder what will happen if people working at, say, Wembley stadium were to object to be subjected to everyone singing 'God save the Queen', could they protest that such overt religious sentiment shouldn't have apace in the workplace?

  • rate this

    Comment number 798.

    8 Minutes ago
    Jesus is God, our Creator and Saviour.

    Now that IS offensive. I don't mind you having imaginary friends, but please don't foist them on to the rest of us

  • rate this

    Comment number 797.

    764. Luther_Wesley-Baxter

    Jesus is God, our Creator and Saviour."

    Trouble is, there are currently about 5,000 gods being worshipped right now. You have absolutely zero evidence to say that the one you so happened to be born in to is correct, by sheer coincidence, and that they're wrong. Equally, they are in the same position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 796.

    Re 156 Bubonic- Why should people be denied access to some professions because of their religion? Why is it OK to discriminate against Christians this way? Saying some religious adherents can't work in some jobs is what Hitler did in 1930s Nazi Germany is it not? On the contrary these employers could easily adjust working practices to accommodate their employees' religion. Utter hypocrisy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 795.

    "If you give more rights to one group, you have to take away rights from another."

    That's how the Church paints it. I don't think I care about taking away people's "right" to discriminate against others, because I don't consider that to BE a right.

    Equality doesn't take away rights, it takes away privilege. It's just sometimes people don't realise they *were* privileged, so they kick off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 794.

    764. I echo your sentiments but alas we are a 'christian country' in name only. We certainly DONT practice what Jesus preached do we?

    Benefit cuts to the poorest whle the Rich keep theirs. That is the work of pure wickedness and millions support this evil.

    So we are NOT a genuine christain country because of the inbuilt social injustice of the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 793.

    735. Graham

    The version of the Bible used today was decided upon several centuries after Jesus lived - the discarded parts contradicted the used parts so how can you take it seriously
    Someone's seen the DaVinci too often. The order was decided later but the books considered reliable and accurate had been pretty much agreed on well within the lifetime of people who had actually been there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 792.

    Jesus is God, our Creator and Saviour.

    He sure isn't mine!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 791.

    @ 778.Doctor Bob:
    You sound confused: you don’t like Muslims, you seem not to like gays, yet you seem to like the fact that Islam is against homosexuality. Do you want Christianity to be more like Islam? Also, Christian leaders can tell Christians what to do, but not Muslims. They can talk to Muslim leaders though.

  • Comment number 790.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 789.

    this is /was a Christian nation and the beliefs of it's Christian population should take president over what politically correct loonies have to shout about,


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