Christian Life 

European Court to decide on Christian 'Freedoms'

The limits to which British Christians are free to manifest their faith in the public square will be determined by Judges sitting in the European Court in Strasbourg.
 

first published 30/08/12

See 'Responses' at foot of article for update.

Human Rights Four1Last year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) signaled a major U-turn in their policy regarding the rights of religious believers with the announcement that it intended to intervene in support of four cases made by UK Christians to the European Court of Human Rights claiming religious discrimination.

In an unprecedented hearing on Tuesday (4 Sept.), the Justices will hear appeals from four British Christians who believe the British Courts, and Laws set by the former Labour Government under the Equality Act, discriminate against their Human Rights.
 
In recent years, a number of high profile cases have come into the public domain where Christians who expressed their faith, either through refusing to carry out activities which went against the historic teaching of the Christian faith, or through wearing historic Christian symbols, were penalised in the workplace by employers – many have been sacked, or denied work in professional environments.
 
The four Christians are: Gary McFarlane
, an experienced relationship counsellor who was sacked by a counselling service for saying that he might not be comfortable in giving sex therapy to homosexual couples;
Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a cross around her neck; Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was prevented from wearing a cross; and Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington Council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.
 
Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and founder of the Christian Legal Centre said:

“Gary and Shirley have received massive support from the British public who believe that political correctness has gone mad and that hard-working public servants and employees are being discriminated against simply because of their faith.  It is very clear at the moment that there is either a major problem in the way that the Equality Act was drafted, and/or the way in which the Courts, and employers, fail to balance the rights of various groups and beliefs.
 
“The workings of the UK courts has led to deep injustice. If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equality Act and other diversity legislation will be  overhauled, so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their conscience.”


According to its press release the goal of the EHRC’s intervention in these four cases is to establish the legal principle of ‘reasonable accommodations’ that will help employers and others manage how they allow people to manifest their religion or belief. John Wadham, EHRC’s lawyer explained:
 

‘The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades.  It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.’

 
The EHRC gives the following example of how ‘reasonable accommodation’ would work in practice:

‘ For example, if a Jew asks not to have to work on a Saturday for religious reasons, his employer could accommodate this with minimum disruption simply by changing the rota. This would potentially be reasonable and would provide a good outcome for both employee and employer.’
 

If this principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ were applied to the cases  of Lillian Ladele and Garry McFarlane, for example, their conscientious refusal to offer services to gay couples could be easily accommodated by other members of staff dealing with homosexuals.

The Christian Legal Centre is representing Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane and has instructed Human Rights barrister, Paul Diamond, to represent them in court. Meanwhile, Lillian Ladelle is to be represented by Dinah Ross QC as her leading counsel. Joshua Rozenberg, the highly-respected lawyer and journalist has outlined her case and his views on the Law Society's web site.


Christians Together, 09/01/2013

Feedback:
Editor 09/01/2013 17:59
BREAKING NEWS: Landmark European Court judgment on Christian freedoms will be announced on Tuesday
A landmark judgment in the cases of four UK Christians will be handed down at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg at 09:00 UK time on Tuesday 15th January 2013.

Please pray that Christian freedoms would be upheld and please help us to continue to stand with Christians.

Andrea Williams said: "These are landmark cases and we have waited a long time to get to this point. At stake is not only the future shape of Christian involvement in community life but the protection of important personal freedoms in a diverse society."

The Christian Legal Centre is handling two of the cases:

Shirley Chaplin had worn her confirmation cross on a small chain around her neck, without incident, throughout her nearly thirty years in front-line nursing. Then, as part of a new uniform policy, she was told to remove it although allowances were made for the religious dress of others and no credible health and safety concern could be established. For a briefing sheet on Shirley's case -
http://christianconcern.us2.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=bed173cc9adfcad1e0e442a35&id=c40195f7b5&e=c128243224

Gary McFarlane, a relationships counsellor, said during a training course that he might have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to same-sex couples because of his Christian faith. He was dismissed for gross misconduct for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
For a briefing sheet on Gary's case -
http://christianconcern.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=bed173cc9adfcad1e0e442a35&id=08cadc7e0c&e=c128243224

For a video interview with Shirley Chaplin -
http://christianconcern.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=bed173cc9adfcad1e0e442a35&id=a436fc3be8&e=c128243224

Source: Christian Concern
Mishmarot (Guest) 11/01/2013 13:01
It is a long-awaited chink of divine light in Post-war Europe's pseudo-liberal darkness. God bless their work.
Editor 15/01/2013 20:30
RULING AGAINST CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE

A ruling from the European Court of Human Rights today (15 JAN) has raised questions about the future involvement of Christians in professional and public life.

In the case of Gary McFarlane the Court found that his ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ had not been infringed by his employer’s decision to dismiss him – despite the fact that his conscience could have been respected without any risk of others being denied a service to which they were entitled.

Gary had practised as a relationships counselor for a number of years. Then, during a training course for a new skill, he was prompted to indicate that if the situation ever arose he might have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to a same-sex couple on account of his Christian faith.

He was dismissed for gross misconduct for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, despite the fact that (i) the issue involved a hypothetical scenario and (ii) there was never a risk of anyone being denied a service to which they were entitled (since there were many other counsellors who were willing and able to provide it).

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides strong protections for the 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion'.

A ComRes poll in 2010 found that 72% of British adults agree that ‘Christians should be able to refuse to act against their conscience without being penalised by their employer’.

Mr McFarlane is represented by the Christian Legal Centre and is available for interview.

Speaking after the judgment, Gary McFarlane said:

“I am amazed that the Court has ruled that my ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ was not infringed. There was no need for me to be dismissed. No one was ever denied a service. My conscience could have been accommodated and no one’s rights affected.

“What happened to me was deeply illiberal. I simply wanted to do my job in light of my Christian identity but I was policed and punished for my thoughts, for my beliefs. In a truly tolerant society we make room for one another.

“Today’s judgment is a worrying sign not just for those who bring their Christian faith to bear on their work but for all those who hold viewpoints that differ from the reigning orthodoxy.

“Recent equality legislation has not led to greater respect for difference but to the punishment of difference of opinion. It is not bringing us together but driving us apart and making us afraid to talk about our differences. It’s leading to a fragile and superficial society.”

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

"It's a great shame that justice has not been done and common sense has not prevailed. Gary's case could have been resolved in a reasonable way. The equality legislation in the United Kingdom has led to some people being more equal than others. This Judgment further entrenches this mindset.

"The European Court had the opportunity to redress the balance but has failed to do so. It is deeply ironic that equality legislation has led to such unequal and unfair treatment of Christians.

"This judgment will make it increasingly difficult for Christians to participate fully in society. Many Christians, motivated by their faith, want to serve others in their professions but they will now be hindered from doing so. Christian faith should not be a bar to office.

"In recent years, we have seen those serving as doctors, nurses, magistrates, teachers and a number of others be barred from doing so on account of their Christian identity."

Full briefing and legal documents at-
www.christianconcern.com/europeancases

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CHRISTIAN REGISTRAR LOSES EUROPEAN COURT CASE

www.christian.org.uk/news/christian-registrar-loses-european-court-case
Editor 23/01/2013 11:24
ECHR Press Statement following the judgement:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission today announced that it would be working with employers and religious groups to help them interpret the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on a series of cases involving religious freedom in the workplace.

The Court found that Nadia Eweida suffered a breach of her right to religious freedom, which is in line with the Commission’s intervention submitted to the European Court.

However, in another case involving the wearing of a cross at work – that of Shirley Chaplin, a nurse - the Court ruled that health and safety considerations meant that the UK court reached the right conclusion in supporting her employer’s actions.

The Commission’s view is that the Government should now look at the need to change the law to take the European Court judgment into account. However, until this takes place, there is potential for confusion for both employers and employees following the ruling. This is in particular due to the fact that the Court found that Eweida had suffered discrimination but that Chaplin had not.

The Commission will therefore be publishing new guidance on this issue for employers and employees, to help them avoid further confusion and potentially costly litigation while the government considers whether to change the law.

The Commission also welcomed the Court's statement of principle that "as enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a 'democratic society' within the meaning of the European Convention.'

Mark Hammond, CEO of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

"The right of people to express their religious belief is a vital freedom, guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, so we welcome part of today’s decision by the European Court. This was in line with our advice that people should not suffer unjustified discrimination on the grounds of wearing of religious symbols.

"However there is a lot of scope for confusion following the ruling, so the Commission will be issuing guidance to employers and employees to help them and avoid further costly and divisive legal action.

"A lot of the confusion and confrontation on this issue could have been avoided if we can work together to come up with common sense approaches to the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace rather than divisive, lengthy and expensive court cases. The Commission is therefore also working with the government to bring together people from different faiths, from secular and humanist groups and employers to develop ideas for how these issues can be resolved."

For more detailed information see:

http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/003-4221189-5014359

NOTICE: - The 'Response' facility on some articles may be restricted to CT site members. In these circumstances comments/questions from non-site members should be sent to the Editor by e-mail: editor<atsign>christianstogether.net

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