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 1048.

    I think these cases are extreme and it seems to me that under the pretence of secularism these employers are as fanatic and extreme as their religious counterpart! On the other hand I do not understand why members of the gay community want to embrace and believe in any religion or a God to that matter that condemns them from the first place, that in itself is self-defeating and hypocritical!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    I see a difference between a religious requirement, like wearing a yarmulke, a beard, or a headscarf, and wearing a religious symbol that is merely ornamental. I think the rules should bend further to accommodate behavior that is required by the religion. The problem with allowing someone serving the public to opt out of serving is sometimes, no one else is available to provide the service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1046.

    I believe that a set of guidelines as to what symbols or clothing is acceptable should be drawn up with appropriate religious/ secular participation. Employers could ban All or none of the symbols on safety grounds, but not on religious/secular grounds, equity for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1045.

    I love how all the racists seize the opportunity to bash Islam. Like we should thank them or something, "Oh, we'd never thought of that, thanks for telling us....."

    Idiots, this is about Christian fundamentalists not about Islamic. plenty of Islam bashing news to delight your sensibilities in the future or in the Mail etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 1044.

    1037. Bill ....Or your view is not representative of the majority position.

    Faulty Assumptions lead to faulty results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1043.

    Similar sentiments to some I made a while ago, krokidil, and interestingly I got nothing back either....come on, atheists, upset that you're not the only ones able to chuck the words 'bigot/rude/intolerant' around?

  • Comment number 1042.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    Like to point out a religious paradox. How can both sides in a war have God on their side? Are some more righteous than others or do both get to sit on the biblical naughty step called Hell?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    1015. Comhairleoir
    God Save the Queen should be banned for being noise pollution, personally I find anthems a bit of a bore but if we are going to have one let’s go for Jerusalem or land of hope and glory, they are at least up lifting, God Save the Queen is a dirge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1039.

    1024. Akkarrin

    '' does the European court really have nothing better to do ? '''

    Unfortunately ... errrr no

    That is one of things that is not so funny about this story

  • Comment number 1038.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1037.

    It is now quite clear that this BBC forum has been hijacked by an intolerant, anti-Christian, pro-Gay mob who are manipulating the ratings. Check it out. Any atheist, left-wing comment here - no matter how unreasonable or silly - gets an automatic approval rating, while anyone who dares to support the Christian viewpoint gets lots of minus votes. This is not a representative discussion forum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1036.

    1028. krokodil
    It is quite disturbing to read many comments with ill concealed hatred towards Christians. Bullies pick on the weak I guess....
    The Catholic Church week? Really?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1035.

    ...and here's yet another 'religion' war! Turban,s veil's crosses, etc. etc. etc. ALL adding to the 'man made' nonsense!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1034.

    If a Sikh can wear a turban, and a muslim a veil (as long as all safety issues are ok) then a christian can be allowed to wear a cross. BUT if you are a relationship councellor or registrar then and your religious views are not in keeping with the law of the country (even if you disagree with the law) you must help or marry these people. if you won't then quit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1033.

    I can understand the case for nadia and shirley it's not hurting any one if they show there belief. How ever Gary and Lilian have no case. I'm a vegetarian, if I became a butcher then started to complain that i couldn't touch meat because it was against my beliefs I'd  be classed a fool and rightly so. If you can't do your job then get a new one

  • rate this

    Comment number 1032.

    1020. Funnily enough Jesus did not wear a cross but the garments etc of a humble Jew of the day. He was jewish and there is little evidence he wanted a new faith rather than a new way forward for man. Established christianity with its pomp and piousness forgets the humble roots of a humble jewish stonemason.

    Giving rather than recieiving. Helping to house the homeless and bring fairness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1031.

    Humanity has bu##ered up science, religion and politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1030.

    948. jud
    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
    And how exactly does insulting them give you the impression you are a better person?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1029.

    the fake christians are the friends of the bankers and the politicians, just look at Blair. If Jesus was alive today these people would want to crucify him as a sinner, and then when they've done the evil, they try to say the rest of us made them do it, and they're so sorry. do you think if Jesus died by witches ducking stool they'd want to stick graphics of ducking stolls everywhere, when wedon't


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