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 848.

    Ancient Israel turned their backs on God to great detriment, let us not repeat this. If a person is not straight then they MUST (I REPEAT must) be celibate. It is what the Lord Jesus would have required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    There is a case of a Muslim mans family wanting to keep him alive with a machine it is his Muslim right etc the bible etc never mentions hospitals and all the machinery which help to keep people alive should religious people have access to hospitals and treatment which is quite a new thing, is this not against the bible and other religious books? i think it must be

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    Christianity believes in forgiveness but some officials exploite the situation for cheap popularity in the name political correctiveness. The christian community Leaders must campaign for their voice to be heared before it is too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    Re 820 Talksense. Just showing how little you know about Christianity. In the New Testament, the food laws are explicitly set aside (see Mark 7:19, Acts Chapter 10). In contrast, sin is still sin (see1 Corinthians 6:9) but in all things it's important to understand the full teaching of the faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    with you all the way liberty rose!

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    Why does the BBC continue to censor my comments?
    I have tried to post 3 times now, this is disgusting.

    All I want to say is that religion is oppressive, illogical and should be ousted by any rational mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    webboffin wrote, "Jesus himself never wore crosses and trinkets. These so called Christians are a cause for stumbling others."

    My reply- What a silly comment! By your logic Christians should not pray to Jesus because Jesus never prayed to Himself! My friend, Jesus WENT to the cross. And Crhristians wear the symbol of that act. I hope you understand!

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    I'm confused, which god is it that I should worship to ensure eternal life/salvation/reincarnation/rebirth/entry into Heaven?

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    @ 805. Name Number 6

    "What about the 4th century re-write and various others since?"

    What 4th century re-write? The oldest manuscripts - 1st and 2nd century - contain the same text we have today. You should try reading a bit.

  • Comment number 839.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    Freedom of speech, thought, and expression is important.

    If you don't defend someone's freedom to express their religious beliefs, then don't expect others to defend freedoms you yourself deem important in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Matt 22 v 21). Miss Ladele's appeal is nonsensical and groundless. She is a registrar performing a secular, legal, adminstrative function not a ministaer performing a religious ceremony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.

    In Britian we have many religions but it is the way some followers of their relligon act which I find difficult. I have always believed that you have to behave properly and be decent and helpful at all times, holding doors open,standing on a bus when someone in greater need has to sit, no gender is better than the to other, Muslim men please take note you are not better than women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 835.

    With the exception of real danger, surely tolerance is the answer?

    The Christian should be allowed to wear a cross unless it's incompatible with work on safety grounds.

    The Christian who will not counsel a Gay couple should simply swap with another counsellor who is happy to do the work.

    These cases all have the appearance of an excuse to reduce staff rather than punishment for a real offence..

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    Paul's letters were written about half way through the first century. Within living memory of Jesus...
    While I respect your right to believe these stories to be true, merely writing of something does not make it a fact. These are merely stories, and your belief in them should be a private matter, not for public display and they certainly should have no impact on public policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    McFarlane the sex counsellor had counselling gay clients as part of his job, signed an agreement to it, then reneged.

    Former nurse Chaplin was allowed to wear her christian symbol as a brooch but refused.

    Nadia Eweida also refused to wear her christian symbol as a brooch/badge.

    Ladele the Registrar refused to do her job despite the fact that same-sex civil partnerships was part of that job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    813. ambrose-CHONGO

    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.

    Which God? You didn't specify. Is it Odin? Ra? Zeus? Vishnu? Allah?

    Oh, I see. It's the one that, by sheer chance, happened to be the popular choice when you were born. Gee, what an amazing coincidence, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    If there is genuine discrimination here I would support this: BUT, uniform is uniform- It could be argued that in an air hostess role a neckchain is a health and safety risk. Seems to me the complainents here are using the very laws that protect their rights to deny those righjts to others- certainly in the case of civil partnerships and sexual therapy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 830.

    I was prevented the other week from stoning someone who was working on the Sabbath. I too can't express my religious freedom; I'm coming to Europe with you...wait for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 829.

    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'?

    @799 richardjinx That would depend whether they were protesting at just having to hear it, or whether they were being forced to join in singing it with their jobs on the line if they didn't!


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