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 828.


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

    No, they were not. The first 2 gospels were written just 20-some years after the death of Christ


    I thought the general consencus was that Mark's was the first and probably from the early 60s, given the general life expectancy at that time he is unlikely to have been an eye witness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 827.

    Nadia Eweida should see what her bible says about her cross. The Bible shows that images (carved from Gold & Silver) are detestable to God and useless in helping their devotees to get closer to God.
    Have a read of Deuteronomy 7:25 & Psalm 115:4-8.

  • rate this

    Comment number 826.

    760. “To help you synapse on this...”

    Permitting all expression would be a lot easier to implement and not as asymmetric in terms of how much it effects one group or another.

    Of course, if you'd prefer we all wear grey uniforms all the time, I’m totally down with that. I just inferred from your username that you probably wouldn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    735. Graham

    The version of the Bible used today was decided upon several centuries after Jesus lived ----
    Someone's seen the DaVinci too often.
    Actually I've never seen it (can't stand Tom Hanks) - your all seeing god should have been able to tell you that. I also don't believe what some alleged disciple with his own agenda wants me to. It's called having a mind of your own

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.


    "If a policeman were to refuse to evict children asylum seekers for conscience reasons, people would applaud him for his courage"

    I'd suggest that most people wouldn't applaud him, but would instead demand that he was sacked for failing to uphold the law. Policemen enforce the law, they don't decide how to intepret it based on their own conscience - Judges and Juries do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    I live in a beautiful place. Surrounded by mtns. & a lake only a short walk away. The sun is shining today, some clouds and the song of the Raven filters through the pines...some 70 ft. high. Fall is in the air...its really lovely.

    Crosses, clothes, turbans, etc.......the jokes on you! Open your eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    Secular law trumps religious dogma every time.

  • Comment number 821.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    If Christian's were consistent in their beliefs rather than just selecting what fitted their own, personal prejudice and ignoring the rest, then I might have more sympathy. For example, the Bible says that eating shellfish is an abomination. Do we have Christians working in restaurants who claim religious persecution?

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    You forgot to mention children being accused of witchcraft and beaten to death in the name of 'christianity'//

    Interesting you justify the problems of multiculturalism by pointing to our history, not 'their' present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    2. Its not religion that has caused the troubles of the world its religious intolerance within these faiths and of course fundamentalism.

    In fact if we examine this. We see neo-conservative fundamantalism causing great injustice to the USA, neo-conservative judiasm causing trouble in the West Bank and neo-conservative Islam causing immense suffering to...fellow muslims.

  • Comment number 817.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    I doubt you will find many Muslim haters in the gay community. Many gay haters also be will Muslim haters. You can tell from teh posts on here: many don't give a hoot about those 4 christians, they just use teh topic to vent their hate of Muslims, gays, lefies and whoever else that seems to embitter them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.

    783. FreeCitizen
    Could it be that the written witness of people who were there is too inconvenient for you?
    What witnesses? These stories weren't witnessed first-hand, but retold for at least a century.
    Dead Sea scrolls include fragments of Marks Gospel. All of the scrolls are verifiably dated before 70AD as Jesus was crucified around 35AD that certainly isn't centuries later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    this is all about appeasement of the Muslims and gays to the detriment of the Christians ,
    well England wake up and protect the values that have guided and given us the wealth and standing such as it is today.
    it is a weakness to let these values vanish in favour of a sad belief that it is not cool to be Christian,
    forget the Cliff Richard image you have of us we are not all wimps

  • rate this

    Comment number 813.

    Turning away from Almighty God brings a curse upon the land. Either God is God and His word must be observed or else we all become satanists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

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

    No, they were not. The first 2 gospels were written just 20-some years after the death of Christ; Luke about 30 years, and John, some 40 years after the events. John and Matthew were direct witnesses; Mark wrote down Peter's (witness) account, and Luke collected accounts from people who were there

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    @797.Mr Max "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."

    All religions are indeed equal. Equally mistaken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.

    Comment 786 of 'The Bloke' says, "... ... ... a turban is a religious requirement for Sikhism".

    You are wrong, 'Bloke'! Not cutting hair is a requirement for Sikhism. Turban is NOT! Please check your facts. I urge you! Turban is NOT a requirement. Please check your facts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    Personally I think all religious clothing/apparel should be banned at work, it confuses integration and promotes peoples differences.
    Also, as all religion is inherently wrong, and holds no scientific validity, isn't it time we just got rid of the entire oppressive concept and educated people?


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