British Christians Fight 'Discrimination' At European Court Of Human Rights

Christians Fight 'Discrimination' At NHS, British Airways At European Court

Four British Christians who claim they were sacked because of their religious beliefs will attempt to prove they have been discriminated against because of their faith at Europe's highest court on Tuesday, in a landmark case.

They include two women who claim they were asked to remove necklaces with crosses on them at work, a relationship counsellor who refused to counsel gay couples, and a registrar who would not conduct same-sex civil partnerships.

The European Court of Human Rights will investigate whether there has been a breach of Article Nine of the European Convention of Human Rights, their right to freedom of religion.

A close-up of the necklace worn by British Airways employee Nadia Eweida, outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Lillian Ladele, a registrar for the London Borough of Islington, is described as a "Christian [who] holds the view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life and sincerely believes that same sex civil partnerships, which she describes as 'marriage in all but name' are contrary to God's law", according to court documents.

Although originally allowed to "swap shifts" with colleagues so she would not have to conduct civil partnerships, in March 2006 two gay Registrars complained about Ladele's refusal to perform gay unions.

After negotiations with Islington council, it began proceedings to discipline her for failing to do her duty "solely on the grounds of [the] sexual orientation of the customers of that service” and Ladele went to an Employment tribunal, which found against her, and an appeal was rejected.

Relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane, who would not counsel gay couples

Gary McFarlane, a Bristol counsellor for Relate, was sacked after refusing to give sex advice to gay couples.

McFarlane, now a self-employed counsellor, is a practicing Christian and formerly an elder of a large church.

In court documents, McFarlane is said to "hold a deep and genuine belief that the Bible states that homosexual activity is sinful and that he should do nothing which directly endorses such activity."

British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida, a Pentecostal Christian from Twickenham, south-west London, was sent home by her employer British Airways in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a small silver cross.

BA allowed male Sikh employees to wear turbans and female Muslim ground staff members were authorised to wear hijabs.

Eweida had original concealed her cross beneath her clothing, but in 2006 she "decided to start wearing the cross openly, as a sign of her commitment to her faith," court documents said.

Despite agreeing to remove or conceal the cross on several occasions, Eweida was sent home without pay in September 2006 for refusing to remove necklace, and was offered behind-the-scenes admin work the next month, which she rejected.

After a raft of negative press, BA has since agreed to let staff wear small cross and Star Of David necklaces and Eweida returned to work, but BA refused to compensate her for lack of earnings.

Shirley Chaplin wears her cross necklace as she leaves an employment tribunal

Nurse Shirley Chaplin, from Devon, was moved to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital for refusing to remove a necklace bearing a cross.

Chaplin, who said she had worn the cross since her confirmation in 1971, told an employment tribunal she had "been a nurse for roughly thirty years and throughout that time I have worn my Crucifix.

"The Crucifix is an expression of my faith and my belief in the lord Jesus Christ; I cannot remove my Crucifix without violating my faith.

"The wearing of the Cross is an important expression of my faith as I believe God is calling me to do so as a Christian.

"Christians are called by the Bible and God to tell others about their faith and the wearing of a Cross is a visible means of manifesting that calling.

"Also, by wearing the Cross visibly, I believe it creates more personal accountability in my Christian lifestyle.

"In other words, if others know I am a Christian because they see the Cross on my necklace, I tend to focus more on my actions and words to keep them as consistent as possible with the requirements of my Christian faith.

"If I were forced to not wear the Cross, my accountability to Christian living while at work may be compromised and my actions may suffer.”

At the first hearing of Chaplin's case, the employment tribunal heard another Christian nurse had been requested to remove a cross and chain and two Sikh nurses had been informed that they could not wear a bangle or kirpan, and that they had complied with these instructions.

Two Muslim doctors were given permission to wear close-fitting hijab.

Her case and appeal were rejected.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, which has prepared a submission for the court in Strasbourg, said: "Any further accommodation of religious conscience in UK equality law would create a damaging hierarchy of rights, with religion trumping all.

"Any change to the law to increase religious accommodation stands the risk of seriously undermining UK equality law.

"This is likely to be a landmark case determining the future direction of equality law in the UK, and potentially also in Europe.

"We must at all costs avoid creating a hierarchy of rights with religious rights firmly at the top."


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