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 948.

    Reading all this depressing and predictable stuff I'm always struck by the thought that bog-standard chattering class atheists never seem to realise what colossal, intolerant, rude bigots they've become

  • Comment number 947.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 946.

    917. CeriB

    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

    I'm a devout Christian and on the whole I'm inclined to agree with you. Note, though, that this applies to only one of the four cases here

  • rate this

    Comment number 945.

    Rubish.. Not all of these should be put in the same bucket. For example "BA worker Nadia Eweida was sent home after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross" would be equivalent to a muslim lady wearing a hajib. That was a silly case and nothing like the others. (In my view)

  • rate this

    Comment number 944.

    The Catholic Church includes 7 more books from The Old Testement. These were dropped by Protestant reformists in the 1500's as they did not support the Protestant doctrines.

  • Comment number 943.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 942.

    Advising gay people can be an issue with people who are not Christian. Forcing people to engage in activity they believe is immoral is not new, labeled as "Conscientious Objection." Nuremburg trials illustrated that coercion by the State is not sufficient excuse for immoral behavior. Hence, the State does not have the right to impose action deemed genuinely immoral by the State’s agent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 941.

    As I remember, this case was about not having ANY jewellery on show (religious or otherwise) as angry customers might reach over and grab it! Jewellery was permitted but under your clothes. This wasn't good enough for this woman and she insisted on wearing it outside her clothes. Seems to me she has been pretty unreasonable.

  • Comment number 940.

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

  • Comment number 939.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    "How on earth does wearing a simple cross "violate health and safety regulations"?"

    Plenty of ways. Start with a hospital worker. A "simple cross" isn't that simple - have you ever tried to clean, let alone disinfect without damage, a chain?
    We don't even wear jewellry in labs where there's no dangerous bugs.

    And yet again - it's a ban on any jewelry - nothing to do with any faith group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 937.

    @934. criley401
    "If the workplace is to be religious nuetral then force all employees to remove any hit of their religious beliefs from their person before entering thus making it fair to all."

    That doesn't make it fair for all, that makes it preferable to have no faith.

    The issue with these women was the wearing of a necklace not a cross, they were allowed to wear a cross but as a badge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 936.

    If I claimed that an invisible being communicates with me and has commanded me that I wear weird symbols or clothing, and that blond people are an abomination and I cannot serve them, I would most likely be put on medication and fired.

    But when someone claims to talk to an invisible being named Christ, or Allah or Yahweh, society must make all allowances possible?!

    Stop indulging this nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    If your religion makes it difficult/impossible to do your job then you have two options:

    1. Change job
    2. Change religion*

    I'd suggest option 2, as this can be easier than changing job. Expecting to keep your job, but refusing to do the required work is not an option.

    * if changing your religion carries the death penalty, then I strongly recommend option 1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 934.

    If other religious peoples in the workplace are able to wear symbols of their religion then these women should be allowed to wear their own symbols. If the workplace is to be religious nuetral then force all employees to remove any hit of their religious beliefs from their person before entering thus making it fair to all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 933.

    2 Minutes ago
    Christian folk that are reading these comments, take a hint. Those comments that are pro God/Jesus/Creator are being heavily marked down, and those that offer a more libertarian viewpoint are being marked up. //

    The ones pointing out that minority religions shouldn't be treated preferentially seem most popular. religious', not 'christian' folk, take heed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    This story is ridiculous, the woman who was sacked from British Airways wasn't discrimitated against for being Christian, she lost her job because she had a childish tantrum that her religion wasn't as visible as that of her colleagues.

    It's stupid to compare wearing crucifixes & turbans, but evidently some Christians seem to resent other religions so much that they adopt these idiotic stances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 931.

    '...and the answer to that is clearly yes.'

    For incidents 3 and 4, the answer is quite clearly no. They would potentially be restricting their employer's profitability.

    Definite persecution complex.

  • rate this

    Comment number 930.

    How on earth does wearing a simple cross "violate health and safety regulations"?

    This seems to nothing but overzealous application of stupid invasive bureaucracy, which in my view definitely infringes on human rights.

    What happened to common sense?

    Why are Christians being targeted in the UK, a nation that used to be known for fair play and tolerance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 929.

    So the other religions are not only allowed to wear their religious symbols but can even change dress code to suit. This is typical of this country where the original inhgabitants are being submirged in a sea of minority rights.

    Thank you the Labour party who only made these laws to cosy up to the minorities to garner votes.


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