THE European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, will next
week hear the cases of four British people who claim that they lost
their jobs as a result of discrimination against their Christian
Two of the cases concern the right to manifest religious belief,
and whether this extends to wearing a cross or crucifix in the
workplace. The other two concern the "clash of rights" that occurs
when legislation and rules designed to ensure equality for gay men
and lesbians is said to conflict with other people's rights to
manifest their religious belief that homosexual practice is
Shirley Chaplin, who worked as a nurse with the Royal Devon and
Exeter NHS Trust (
News, 9 April 2010), and Nadia Eweida, who worked at a check-in
desk for British Airways at Heathrow Airport (
News, 11 January 2008), both lost their jobs over their refusal
to remove a cross worn around the neck. The pair both claim that
they had worn their crosses for years, and that their jewellery
became apparent only when their respective employers changed the
design of their uniforms.
Lillian Ladele was working as a registrar with Islington Council
when civil partnerships were introduced. The council originally
agreed that she did not have to conduct civil partnership
ceremonies, as other staff were available to do them (News,
18 July 2008); but they changed their stance after complaints
from homosexual registrars that, by refusing to register civil
partnerships, she was acting contrary to the council's equality
Gary McFarlane was employed by the Avon branch of the national
charity Relate to provide relationship counselling for both
homosexual and heterosexual couples. He had begun a sex-therapy
course; but he was dismissed over the charity's concerns that his
Christian beliefs would prevent his providing sex therapy to gay
News, 4 December 2009).
All four took their cases to employment tribunals, where Ms
Ladele initially won her case before it was overturned by the
Employment Appeals Tribunal. Mrs Chaplin, Ms Eweida, and Mr
McFarlane all lost their cases. The Court of Appeal dismissed Ms
Eweida's case, and she was refused permission to appeal to the
Earlier this year, The Sunday Telegraph reported that
the Government was opposing the cases, and that, in its official
response to Strasbourg, it had said: "In neither case is there any
suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a
generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith, still
less one that is regarded (including by the applicants themselves)
as a requirement of the faith." Despite this, the Prime Minister
last month told the Commons that Christians should be allowed to
wear crosses in the workplace (
News, 13 July).
In a statement this week, the Home Office said: "We believe
people should have the right to wear the cross - or other religious
symbols - at work. . . Our law strikes the right balance between
employees' rights to express their beliefs, and the needs of
employers to run their business."
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has intervened
in the cases. It says that, in the cases of Mrs Chaplin and Ms
Eweida, the English courts "may not have given sufficient weight to
Article 9(2) of the Convention [the freedom to manifest religious
beliefs]"; but that, in the cases of Ms Ladele and Mr McFarlane,
the courts "came to the correct conclusions".
The EHRC had originally suggested that a test of "reasonable
accommodation" could be applied to the cases. This would have
allowed other registrars to conduct civil partnerships in the
Ladele case. The EHRC later amended its position, after a public
Earlier this year, the all-party group Christians in Parliament
said that more thought should be given to the "reasonable
accommodation" concept, in a report published in response to
publicity surrounding the cases. It found that religious belief was
being "gently squeezed" from public life, but that Christians did
not face persecution (
News, 2 March).
The General Synod resolved last month that it was "the calling
of Christians to order and govern our lives in accordance with the
teaching of holy scripture, and to manifest our faith in public
life as well as in private".
Human-rights dialogue. The Equality and Human Rights Commission
has announced a series of "open dialogues" on the application of
equality and human-rights laws on religion.
The seminars, it said, followed research carried out by the
London Metropolitan University for the Commission, which examined
religion or belief in the workplace and public services, and found
"tensions between some religious and secular views on equality and
human-rights law in these settings".
Question of the Week:
Is Strasbourg the right place to make decisions about religious
discrimination in the UK?