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 1028.

    It would be interesting if the UK ever legislated and banned the wearing of the face veil.

    And there was a hys. I do not imagine for a second the same level of vitriol would be allowed against those faiths that were affected.

    It is quite disturbing to read many comments with ill concealed hatred towards Christians. Bullies pick on the weak I guess....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1027.

    People of the world can live together in harmony easily it is religions of the world and the people that follow them who find it impossible to co-exist and end up fighting and killing each other.

    I believe we should get all the people of all religions throughout the globe and place them together on the Artic Ice Cap in winter and wait for the summer melt.

    What a wonderful world it would be!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1026.

    I always thought all religions promote tolerance towards other faiths.

    I also know that many faiths encourage their adherents to proclaim their faith to others.

    I have no problem with any and all of this...what I object to is the intolerance shown by many to this is making you listen nor adopt that faith;you are free to choose;at least in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 1025.

    I'm not religious myself but however i respect other rights to hold their beliefs. I support the two who want to wear crosses, religious items should be allowed as long as they don't interfere with safety or security.

    Refusing to do your job over a religious belief is another matter, the employer is just disciplining them over it as they must have been aware that this situation may arise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    so four christians (whom seemingly take pride in discriminating every minority in the world) are annoyed that they've been discriminated against when in fact they've just broken the rules of their employment

    rules which everyone else have to follow as well

    does the European court really have nothing better to do ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    The great thing about the bible is that is so contradictory that in reality a Christian could perfectly legitimately conform to every UK law whilst still being within the bounds of their religion. That they choose not to is personal moral preference!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    So anything can be justified by "religion"

    The possibilities are endless...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    For equality to happen, Christian beliefs and symbols should be respect the same as any other religion. If one person can wear symbols like a Sikh turban, a Muslim hijab, or even a Jewish skull cap, then a christain should be able to wear a Christian cross. Just because we are a less sensitive religion does not mean we should be treated any different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    If someone can't perform a legitimate function within their job description on the grounds of faith, they should find another job. However, how is the wearing of a cross be detrimental in ANY way unless it is a) large enough to be used as a weapon or b) the job involves use of machinery in which it could become entangled. These are different issues and should not be part of the same case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    I wear a small cross identical to the stone celtic cross in the graveyard where my nephew is buried. It was a present from his brother. In 22 years it has never been a H&S issue. I'm not religious and it's not coming off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    The first two cases regarding jewellery should never have become an issue, the wearing of religious tokens are a matter for the individual and should not have become an issue. The two other cases are different altogether, and both people should have put their religion aside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    1005. Leaguefan

    The ''great ski pixi'' -

    I like it - Count me in !

    Wot do we have to wear?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    998. Geoff 2011

    We hear of honour killings, stoning's and executions of westerners to appease their religions -
    And we hear of children being beaten to death by christians who thought they were witches, remind me who perpetrated the Holocaust?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    799. richardjinx
    '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', could they protest that such overt religious sentiment shouldn't have apace in the workplace?'

    It could just happen, after all we had the Bideford humanist who was 'upset' by prayers (diddums) before council meetings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    Not sure about the other cases but the Nadia Eweida case is pretty clear cut. Her religion does not reqiure her to wear a cross and her reason for wearing one was to foist her religion on others, in her own words, "It is important to wear it to express my faith so that other people will know that Jesus loves them." She's in the wrong and should just accept it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    We can't pick and choose what parts of our contract of employment we will adhere to. What if I refused to work Sunday's for religious reasons. I'm afraid refusing to remove a cross is petty minded. A cross is a symbol, do they need that to remind them what religion they are. No one denying their right to believe

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    Got to say i agree with it being wrong to ban people from wearing religious items on their person unless said item compromises safety or security.

    However when someone refuses to do their job based on a religious belief then thats taking it a bit to far, they are employed to a job if they refuse to do that then the employer is within their rights to seek disciplinary action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    the fake christians are off again. cherry picking the bits of the bible they want - attacking those without power as witches, and grovelling around and forgetting any kind of sinner with money like bankers. strangely they are so genuine in their fear of God that they don't seem to mind telling lies, and spewing hate with no heed to the "love thy neigbour" part. best ignored or theyll drag us down

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    The bible itself says that the cross is offensive.So ,it seems, is anything to do with the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.
    Hardly anyone sees any validity in the concept of sin. And as for a Saviour,people would rather trust horoscopes, crystals or Dawkins
    Living largely as we like, does not seem to be doing us much good.
    It is not usually people who wear a cross who cause our troubles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    Good of them for sticking up for their beliefs & convictions and taking it all the way to court.
    Now if our lying, cheating, thieving politicians & bankers had the same principles then we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.
    I'd rather trust a Christian than a politician


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