Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lilian Ladele and Gary McFarlane in the European Court of Human Rights today
Today the European Court of Human Rights will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed to adequately protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).
The National Secular Society and Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3.
Obviously opinion on these cases is split, with some viewing them as blatant anti-Christian discrimination, whilst others view them as Christians wishing to maintain a privileged position.
I’m not particularly sympathetic with these cases as I’m not sure that Christianity was ever supposed to be about ‘my rights’ and the world was always going to have enmity with Christians. I don’t remember Jesus or the disciples rushing off to the law courts over their rights nor lobbying caesar.
One of the major difficulties in lumping these cases together is that two of the applicants were employed by the state (Ms Lilian Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and Ms Shirley Chaplin, NHS nurse) and two employed privately.
Ms Ladele refused to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies and Ms Shirley Chaplin refused to remove her crucifix for health and safety reasons.
In my opinion if you are employed and paid by the state then abide by the rules and laws of society, and if they should contravene your conscience to the point that you cannot fulfil your role, then you should find alternative employment.
Gary McFarlane was sacked for refusing to counsel gay couples.
The case that I have most sympathy with is Nadia Eweida, the British Airways employee who was asked to stop wearing a cross at work. To me, this may be the most clear-cut case of religious discrimination and that is because of a potential disparity between the treatment of Eweida and other employees of different faiths.
The argument in Eweida’s case is that if other faiths are permitted to wear religious paraphernalia, as they were at BA, and this does not constitute a health and safety risk, then it is wrong to discriminate against one particular expression of faith.
We have to remember that in Eweida’s case the tribunal used the argument that there was no religious discrimination as “Christians generally” do not consider wearing a cross as a religious “requirement”. We have to watch for judgements using this reasoning, as it is secular courts pontificating on theological necessities. Complex and fraught indeed.
Also individual rights and freedoms do not depend on how many people agree with your conscience or speech.
Anyway, it will be interesting indeed to note the outcome of this and even if I’m not entirely enthusiastic at least the Russian Orthodox Church is supporting the case.