January 15, 2013
Fired British Christians Lose 3 of 4 Cases in Landmark Human Rights Ruling
(UPDATED) Christians who lost their high-profile cases say they plan to appeal the ECHR rulings.
Update (April 22): The Telegraph reports that the three Christians who lost their high-profile cases before the European Court of Human Rights are appealing the rulings before the court’s Grand Chamber, opening “the way for a final ruling on what limits can be put on such displays, including wearing a cross and talking about belief in the workplace.”
They plan to file papers this week claiming that “British courts are applying double standards towards Christians for ‘political’ reasons.”
Update (Feb. 19): Britain's equality commission has published new guidelines on how British employers should accommodate religious beliefs in the workplace in light of the ECHR's landmark ruling.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled today that the United Kingdom did not unjustly discriminate against three of four Christians who were dismissed from their jobs on the basis of their religious conscience.
The ruling will likely define the limits of religious freedom when juxtaposed against equality and safety laws.
Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane each filed separate lawsuits against the United Kingdom after they faced penalties and even were fired from their jobs as a direct result of their religious commitments. The four high-profile cases all concerned the British employees' right not to face religious discrimination at work, and all four appealed their cases as one before the ECHR in September, arguing that the government failed to "provide relief" and uphold their religious freedom.
"In Eweida's case, the Strasbourg court did not criticize U.K. law but said British courts had failed to balance competing interests in the case adequately," the Guardian reported.
According to Gregor Puppinck, director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), "The Section only found a violation in the case of Eweida because other employees of other religions were allowed to wear religious items. In the cases of Chaplin, Ladele, and McFarlane, the Section ruled that there were no violation of their right to freedom of conscience and religion."
Chaplin had argued that she was unfairly dismissed from her job at a hospital after she refused to remove a cross necklace from under her uniform. Although the case was similar to Eweida's, the ECHR "rejected Chaplin's case on the grounds that the removal of her necklace was deemed necessary to protect the health and safety of nurses and patients."
The cases of both Ladele and Landrum concerned the legal balance between religious conscience and equality rights. Ladele, a registrar, had requested not to officiate same-sex civil unions, and Landrum objected to providing counseling to same-sex patients.
But in both of these cases, the ECHR "found that Islington Council and the U.K. courts acted within an allowed margin of appreciation when handling different convention rights, in this case the competing rights of sexual orientation and religious belief," according to a press release from the Evangelical Association of the United Kingdom (EAUK).
While Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the EAUK, praised the court's ruling in favor of Eweida, he acknowledged that "a hierarchy of rights now exists in U.K. law."
"The failure of the court to protect the religious freedom of Lillian Ladele in living out her faith in a way consistent with historic Christian belief shows the limitations of this judgement," he said. "We need solutions that will allow for the reasonable accommodation of the expressions of religious belief in all its diverse forms."
The cases now may be appealed to the ECHR's grand chamber.
CT previously noted the four cases and reported on previous religion-related rulings from the ECHR, including the Italian government's use of crucifixes in public schools and Ireland's ban on abortions.