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 928.

    859. alan loughlin

    I find the cross offensive.

    You have no right to find the cross offensive - any more than I have the right to find the hijab or atheism offensive. If we wish - as people say we do - to live in a tolerant pluralist society then we have no business getting "offended" simply because people hold views different to our own. Pandering to such 'offence' simply condones intolerance

  • Comment number 927.

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

  • Comment number 926.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    It is time that believers of ALL religions stop assuming that they're something special. Its time that believers stop assuming that they're something special. In their private lives they can do what they want, but at work they should be neutral. These people scream oppression at the slightest push back against them, yet nothing of imposing their own beliefs on others simply because it's god's will

  • rate this

    Comment number 924.

    848. ambrose-CHONGO
    If a person is not straight then they MUST (I REPEAT must) be celibate. It is what the Lord Jesus would have required."

    To quote what Jesus said about homosexuality:


    He said absolutely NOTHING.

    But he did say "he who is without sin cast the first stone". Stop being so fixated on the bedroom antics of strangers and worry about your own sin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 923.

    If you have a Christian belief that prevents you from doing your job conscientiously you are sacked. Any other belief (muslim, sikh etc etc) then the workplace changes to accommodate that religeon. Unless we have fair laws for all and all religion is kept in private then this will happen. They wear turbans or burk-ah where ever they like but Christians can't wear a cross - where are we - England?

  • rate this

    Comment number 922.

    If you are a public servant, you don't get to choose the members of the public you serve. If a public servant refused to serve someone wearing a crucefix because it's not compatible with their belief system, then that would be equally wrong. As for the other cases, silliness. If rules do not permit wearing any jewellery, then there are no exceptions, regardless of the religious aspects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 921.

    Doesn't God know if you believe or not? Do you have to wear a badge, a veil etc? Fairness dictates that if you ban the one, you must ban them all, so really, you need to let people wear their badges, or not.
    I think 'God' would be very unimpressed that for all the nonsense going on, that we chose this subject to get unhappy about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 920.

    Article 9(1) provides the freedom to manifest one's religion. Article 9(2) says the freedom to manifest one's religion can be limited to protect the rights and freedoms of others.

    This means you may believe what you want but you may not impose it on others. If your religion prevents you from performing all the duties of your job in a non-discriminatory way then you are not fit for your job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 919.

    I'm amazed that it has had to go the ECHR. I thought in a democracy, everyone is entitled to freedom of religion. People say Christians don't have to wear a cross as it isn't a requirement but that's the point. It should be someone's choice to wear it and being denied that right is pure discrimination. Hopefully, unlike the British courts, the European authorities will see sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 918.

    156. Bubonic
    'If you have a religious belief that is incompatible with holding a public office, providing services to the general public or which puts you in a position where you feel you have to violate the legal rights of others then you should gracefully offer your resignation -' By this logic [sic] those holding political beliefs should likewise be barred from public office? Bureaucrats rule!

  • rate this

    Comment number 917.

    They are paid to do a job. The people they provide a service to are entitled to receive that service regardless. If their faith objections are so strong that they refuse to to the job they are paid for then they should resign and let a more enlightened person take the role.

  • rate this

    Comment number 916.

    Miss Ladele was employed to marry people, she refused therefore she was in breach of her employment contract. I expect she was given a chance to fulfil her contractual obligations but refused.

    And others complaining about not wearing jewellery on show ,any at all, including Christian or satanic for that matter. They could wear their symbols hidden no problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 915.

    Mahatma Gandhi told a gathering at Lausanne that while formerly he said that 'God is Truth', he had now come to believe that 'Truth is God'.For even the atherists do not doubt for the power of Truth.In their passion for discovering the Truth,the Atheists have not hesitated to deny the existence of God, and from their point of view they are right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 914.

    If I were Jesus I'd thank God I wasn't a Christian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 913.

    I'm sorry the religious are able to selectively cherry pick what they find offensive from a 2,000 year old book. I despise the bigotry they promote but still deal with them every day without shooing them away.. it's an understanding of how socially diverse we are. Should we as a society inform these people to follow ALL of their hatred laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 912.


  • Comment number 911.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    When I rise to power all religion will be banned! all it causes is death and chaos

  • rate this

    Comment number 909.

    Just out of curiosity, as far as I'm aware Christianity is about following Jesus CHRIST's teachings.

    When, if ever did Jesus say or indicate in the Bible that he was against homosexuality?


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