Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Christians face 'lawful exclusion' from jobs despite cross victory, lawyers warn
But it rejected a similar legal challenge from Shirley Chaplin, a nurse from Exeter, who had been forbidden from wearing a cross at work.
The court found that the right to manifest faith could be overridden by the hospital’s claims that it was against “health and safety” for her to wear a small cross.
Significantly, it also threw out parallel challenges brought by two other Christians who lost their jobs for taking a stand on what they saw as a matter of conscience.
Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, and Lillian Ladele, a marriage registrar, both resisted performing tasks at work they believed would amount to condoning homosexuality.
Miss Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council for asking to be excused from conducting civil partnership ceremonies.
Gary McFarlane indicated during a training course 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.
Although UK equality law explicitly forbids denying goods or services to people on grounds of sexuality, the pair argued that their stance made them conscientious objectors.
Crucially Miss Ladele's lawyers argued that employers should be required to make "reasonable accommodation" for minority beliefs.
Both lost their cases in what defenders said amounted to “an assault on conscientious objection”.
The judges ruled that where there were competing rights, they did not want tyo encroach on Britain's "margin of appreciation".
Yesterday the National Secular Society insisted that the ruling on Mrs Eweida was a “very limited victory” and welcomed that against Mrs Chaplin.
And lawyers said the rulings against Mr McFarlane and Miss Ladele could have far wider implications.
Paul Lambdin, partner in the employment department at Stevens & Bolton said: “Those with religious faith will take scant comfort from the ECHR's decision to allow the wearing of a religious symbol at work (when there is no health and safety risk).
“It appears that those Christians, Muslims and others who disagree with same sex marriage and/or civil partnerships will be excluded from certain jobs.
He added: “These cases demonstrate the difficulty of divorcing a belief from its practice. “The practical effect is that Ms Ladele, Mr McFarlane and others with similar religious convictions may be lawfully excluded from certain jobs.”
Mike Judge, spokesman for The Christian Institute, which supported Miss Ladele, said: “What this case shows is that Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage are at risk of being left out in the cold.
“If the Government steamrollers ahead with its plans to redefine marriage, then hundreds of thousands of people could be thrown out of their jobs unless they agree to endorse gay marriage.”
Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mr McFarlane and Mrs Chaplin, said: “If the Government redefines marriage in the next days and weeks we are going to see more and more cases like this because there are millions of Christians that believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and will have conscientious objections to facilitating that.”
Campaigners claimed that “millions” of people who hold traditional “politically incorrect” views could now face new restrictions because of rulings against three other Christians involved in the European Court of Human Rights case.
They claimed that the judgment actively increases the risk that those who dissent on the issue of same-sex marriage will not be free to voice their dissent.
Their comments came as the court in Strasbourg ruled that Britain had failed to protect the right of Nadia Eweida, a British Airways clerk, to manifest their faith by wearing a small cross.
The judges accepted for the first time that wearing a cross was an important expression of Mrs Eweida’s faith which deserved protection under the European Convention on Human Rights – even though it is not an explicit tenet of Christianity.
It said that Miss Eweida’s rights trumped the company’s “wish to project a certain corporate image”.
But Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “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.”
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, of the Movement for Reform Judaism, said: "This has been a victory for common sense, allowing freedom of religious expression, but not at the expense of other people's rights."
Miss Eweida said she was delighted to have won her case but “gutted” for Shirley Chaplin and “mystified” at what the difference between their cases amounted to.
David Cameron and Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, repeatedly promised to change the law to protect the right to wear a cross if the women lost their cases.
It remains unclear whether that will not now happen because of Mrs Eweida’s victory.
But Mrs Chaplin said: “I still expect David Cameron to change the law and anything else would be a broken promise”
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