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 1008.

    It is always interesting to note that in general, the atheist and anti religion comments are far more nasty, intolerant and often bigoted than those who defend faith.

    I wrote a while ago....and some small person reported for being off topic.

    So to keep it on topic; I will be interested to see how the European court deals with this case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    You have to question the sanity of these religeous types. Do you honestly think these dillusional people deserve any position of responsibility in our society at all. Yes ok we have to honour thier right to exist and practise thier voodoo but shouldn't we segregate them from normal people. Just because they portray a meek and caring attitude doesn't mean power wont corrupt them...again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1006.

    876.Linda - "...In the US christian's are ignoring our Constitution by mixing church and state !...."

    Maybe they are but can you explain why your Coingage has upon it 'In God we Trust' and why invariably, the President ends his Speeches with 'God bless America' ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1005.

    What will the great sky pixie make of this?

    Which of the "chosen" will be sided with or perhaps it's just hogwash tied up with rhetoric attached to dogma with minimal thought.

    Who knows.

  • Comment number 1004.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1003.

    Strange how church/religious people have strong views and like the rest of us to know it. You don't need the church to live by a moral/ethical code. You can do it without "strong beliefs" and neither is it necessary to force it down everybody elses throats. Funny how things in Northern Ireland are reeling from thr effects of "strong beliefs" again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1002.

    998. Geoff 2011

    Hey Geoff

    Where ya going?

    Is it a bit warmer than here? After this summer I'd rather see the sun

  • rate this

    Comment number 1001.


    "So let me get this right. If this goes through, I would legally be able to put a sign in the front of my shop that says...



  • rate this

    Comment number 1000.

    1.We either have one rule for all?


    2.Tolerance for all?

    Now if you chose the first option, all symbols of religion are removed, no crosses, no vial’s, Muslim men would have to shave of the beards, no skull caps for the Jewish, or turbans nothing.

    If you chose option two, we can wera what we want when we want., and screw people that find it offensive! (except in secure zones)

  • rate this

    Comment number 999.

    Certainty is a myth: humanism demands faith, just like Christianity. We incline towards that which offers us meaning, so we ALL discriminate i.e. perceive differences in how we could act and make choices accordingly. Secularism/humanist ethics are not 'neutral': ethics discriminates by definition! Be liberal. Allow the Christian minority to be different. Others in the public sector can marry gays.

  • rate this

    Comment number 998.

    I'm leaving to live in a Christian country - I'm not religious but i look at the middle east with Islam, Shia, Muslim etc and all the other faiths and they are getting an increasing foot hold here in the UK at the expense of our "traditional" religion. We hear of honour killings, stoning's and executions of westerners to appease their religions - too close for comfort - I'd rather see a cross....

  • rate this

    Comment number 997.

    So let me get this right. If this goes through, I would legally be able to put a sign in the front of my shop that says...


    In essence, discriminating against whichever deist faith I find most unsavory at that particular time, because I am afforded the greater right to excise a religious freedom?

    Bring it on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 996.

    991. P Uxbridge
    'All religious people are vile...'

    Wow! Impressive show of bigotry, stereotyping and intolerance. Is this the voice of 'reason' speaking in opposition to those of faith?

  • rate this

    Comment number 995.


    Move over Bonhoeffer, step aside Dawkins, there's a new kid in town

  • rate this

    Comment number 994.

    (Revelation 17:16, 17) . . .these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire. For God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought. . .

    Fake Christianity is going to be destroyed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 993.

    982 continued..

    In some countries the state is run by the religious sector.

    My belief is that the state of many of these becomes tyrannical because there is too strong an adhesion to the religious (but man made) law.

    I therefore reiterate
    NO person should be forced to do or not do any job (normality accepted) else the state itself becomes tyrannical.

    And is of Christian teaching by Jesus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 992.

    Isn't it high time that someone put the 'fun' back into 'fundamentalist'? Otherwise, all you're left with is 'da Mentalist', some sort of low rhyme rap artist, probably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 991.

    All religious people are vile and condemn other religions so who is right, that is what I can not work out why people follow such rubbish which they change to suit themselves all in the name of some fairy story

  • rate this

    Comment number 990.

    Do not wear a turban or a skullcap or a headscarf or whatever because your religion stipulates you to - wear it because you WANT to. So look into the mirror and ask yourself - do I really want to wear such things? And according to the answer, act. Then, you are in a position to take personal responsibility and not shift it on abstruse religious texts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 989.

    Recently, a guy in our town had his genitals crushed in a freak ice sculpting accident. Anyway, according to Deuteronomy 23:1, god won't let him into heaven now because he isn't "whole". Can he tag along to the court too? He understandably feels a bit miffed, not sure who he's going to sue though, God? St Peter?


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