European Court of Human Rights delivers verdicts on four Christian cases

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By Amaris Cole

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of the British Airways worker who was disciplined for wearing a cross, but upheld the original verdicts of the other three Christian cases.

Nadia Eweida, 60, (pictured) received confirmation by judges this morning that she had suffered discrimination at work over her religious beliefs, a violation under Article 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 9 concerns freedom of thought, conscience and religion, leading the UK government to claim the cross is not a ‘legitimate manifestation of faith’.

However, today’s ruling states the European Court of Human Rights believes otherwise, decreeing she was treated unfairly.

Ms Eweida took the case to the European Court, after the airline made her stop wearing her cross visibly.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, posted a message on Twitter, speaking of his ‘delight’ at the verdict, despite the Government arguing against Ms Eweida’s case.

In response, 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.

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.”

The three other Christians have spoken out, pledging to take their cases to the Grand Chamber – the highest court of appeal in Europe.

Shirley Chaplin, a 57-year-old nurse of 30 years who lost her job for refusing to remove the cross she had worn since her confirmation, spoke of her disappointment at losing her case, after judges upheld the original ruling of Health and Safety being a legitimate factor in the case.

Nurses are only allowed two small earrings and a simple, smooth wedding band in the way of jewellery, to stop the risk of spreading infection.

However, speaking this morning, Ms Chaplin said: “Health and Safety came a lot later in my disciplinary,” claiming the hospital had originally merely discriminated against her for refusing to remove this symbol of her faith.

Though the judges wrote in the final ruling: “The applicant’s determination to wear the cross and chain at work was a manifestation of her religious belief and that the refusal by the health authority to allow her to remain in the nursing post while wearing the cross was an interference with her freedom to manifest her religion,” they decided the decision was based on health and safety reasoning.

Gary McFarlane, a therapist for Relate who told the organisation he was opposed to providing sex therapy for same-sex couples if the situation ever arose, will also be taking his case to the Grand chamber.

The judges found his ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ had not been infringed by his employer’s decision to dismiss him’, which was the Article 9 defence his lawyer, Christian Concern’s Bob Diamond QC, argued.

Instead, the court found that the ‘employer’s action was intended to secure the implementation of its policy of providing a service without discrimination’.

Mr McFarlane said this morning: “Christianity becomes synonymous with homophobia.

“That is a tragedy and that is regrettable.”

The therapist went on: “We need to get that balance right; I don’t’ want my views to champion anyone else’s, and I really do want to work with everyone – even if they are individuals in a same-sex relationship.”

He concluded that no Muslim therapist would have been treated the same, because it would be viewed as politically incorrect – even though they would hold the same objections.

Registrar Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, also failed to gain the support of the ECHR in over-turning the local authority and the government’s decision.

Christian Concern, who represented both Ms Chaplin and Mr McFarlane, said: “The ruling from the European Court of Human Rights today has raised questions about the future involvement of Christians in professional and public life.”

Director of the Christian Legal Centre, part of Christian Concern, added: “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. “

In a statement, the Archbishop of York said: “’Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination.

“Christians are not obliged to wear a cross but should be free to show their love for and trust in Jesus Christ in this way if they so wish.”

Dr John Sentamu continued: “In July 2012, the General Synod stated that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern their lives in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture and to manifest their faith in public life as well as in private.

“This means giving expression to their beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in practical acts of service to the local community and to the nation.

“The Equality Act 2010 encourages employers to embrace diversity – including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule.”

Though the four cases were heard together, the cases were brought to the ECHR separately.

Cases must be brought to the Grand Chamber for appeal in the next three months.

Ms Williams said: “We will never give up.”

The full story and responses will be in next week’s edition of The Church of England Newspaper.

 

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