BHA applauds European Court of Human Rights in upholding equality and human rights principles against false ‘Christian Persecution’ cases
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has published its judgements in the cases of Chaplin v. the United Kingdom, Eweida v. the United Kingdom, Ladele v. the United Kingdom and McFarlane v. the United Kingdom. The court found in favour only of Nadia Eweida the former British Airways employee. The applicants, four practicing Christians, complain that domestic law failed to adequately protect their right to manifest their religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has applauded the ECtHR for ‘applying the right principles’ to the cases – principles of equality and human rights, and for dismissing three of the cases of alleged discrimination.
The cases involve:
Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to conduct same-sex partnerships because of her religion;
Gary McFarlane, who refused to treat gay couples equally with straight ones in his job as a counsellor at Relate because of his religion;
Shirley Chaplin, who refused an offer of wearing her cross on a pin and demanded to wear it on a chain, in spite of her employer saying this was dangerous in nursing;
Nadia Eweida, who demanded the right to wear a cross visibly in spite of a uniform code specifying no jewellery.
In all but the case of Eweida, the ECtHR found that the individuals’ human right to freedom of religion had not been unlawfully inhibited.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The European Court applied exactly the same tests and measures that we have been advocating for years. They asked the question “Will this manifestation of a person’s religion interfere with the rights of others?” In three out of the four cases they found it would and rightly dismissed them.
‘These cases have been repeatedly lost in court after court and have wasted an enormous amount of time just as they have generated a huge amount of unnecessarily divisive feeling amongst the public. The victim narrative that lies behind them, whipped up by the political Christian lobby groups that organise them and the socially conservative media that report them, has no basis in reality. The widespread misreporting of these cases under the guise of “Christian persecution” when they are anything but has undermined the chance of the public to get a really clear understanding of what the issues engaged by these cases really are.
‘What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles – principles which protect all people against unfair treatment – and we are pleased that the court has recognised this. All reasonable people will agree that there is scope in a secular democracy for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs when that accommodation does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. But if believers try to invoke their beliefs as a defence for treating other people badly – denying them a service because they are gay or claiming a right to preach at them in a professional context – the law is right to prevent them. It’s not persecution of Christians; it’s the maintenance of a civilised society for all.’
The BHA will be available for comment once the judgments are published. For comment and to arrange interviews please contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 258596 or at email@example.com or BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 0773 843 5059 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the ECtHR’s full judgement: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/001-115881
Read the ECtHR’s press release: http://udoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/003-4221189-5014359
NSS welcomes European Court of Human Rights ruling on ‘religious discrimination’ cases
The European Court of Human Rights has rejected three of the four landmark cases of alleged religious discrimination in the workplace. It upheld one case, Eweida v. the United Kingdom, in which Nadia Eweida claimed that uniform policy violated her human rights as a Christian. In this instance the court ruled that her employer, British Airways, failed to correctly balance her right to manifest her religion with their right to project a corporate image.
In all four cases Christian applicants complained that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. The ruling, while protecting the right to manifest religion at work, makes clear that these rights must be balanced against rights of others.
The National Secular Society was the only organisation that intervened to support the UK Government (pdf) to argue that all four cases of Eweida, Chaplin, Ladele and McFarlane were correctly dismissed by the UK courts. The European Court of Human Rights has today largely upheld those decisions.
Reacting to the landmark ruling, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said:
“First and foremost, this ruling demonstrates that UK equality law is fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and that there is no need to change UK law. Any attempt to do so by the Government would therefore signal a clear desire to give privileged treatment to religious believers, and would be robustly challenged.
“In the cases of the registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships and the counsellor who wouldn’t counsel gay couples – the principle of non-discrimination against gay people has been upheld. If they had won these cases, it would have driven a coach and horses through the equality laws. The rights of gay people to fair and equal treatment would have been kicked back by decades.
“It is always better if employers can reach some kind of accommodation with their staff on these issues, and in the vast majority of cases, they do. But when employees refuse to carry out the duties that their job entails, it is reasonable for employers to discipline them. Religious people who feel elements of their job go against their conscience can always find employment that better matches their needs. That is true religious freedom.
“In the case of Eweida, it is a very limited victory which simply means that if employers want to prevent an employee wearing religious symbol for corporate image purposes, they must prove that their image is negatively affected by such manifestations of belief. In the case of Chaplin we are pleased that the court has acknowledged that employers are better placed than the court to decide if jewellery is a health and safety risk and did not support the idea of blanket permission to wear religious symbols in the workplace.”
Read the ruling in full: JUDGMENT – CASE OF EWEIDA AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM
Watch Keith Porteous Wood explaining why the NSS intervened in all four cases