Aggrieved Christians Demand Rights in European Court

 Published: June 6th, 2011  

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In a significant legal development, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has requested that the British Government state whether they believe that the rights of Christians have been infringed in recent cases where individuals have been penalised for expressing their faith in the workplace.

The request has come because legal action is being taken by four Christians who argue that their rights have been infringed.

The four Christians are: Gary McFarlane, a counsellor who was sacked by a counselling service for saying that he would not give sex therapy to homosexual couples; Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a cross around her neck; Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was prevented from wearing a cross; and Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.

The Christian Legal Centre is representing Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane.

The cases have been viewed by the European Court as being of such importance that they merit further investigation. Once British Government ministers have responded the Court will decide whether to hold further hearings. Many will be watching these developments closely, as the number of Christian discrimination cases in the UK appears to be continuing to rise.

It is hoped that the consideration of these cases will provide greater clarity as to how freedom of conscience for Christians can be preserved when it comes into conflict with UK ‘equality’ laws.

Earlier in the year, the ECHR ruled that crosses were allowed to be displayed on classroom walls after a case from Italy was heard. This decision appeared out of step with how British courts had ruled on the four cases, which were all lost on appeal.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“These cases are massively significant.

“There seems to be a disproportionate animosity towards the Christian faith and the workings of the courts in the UK has led to deep injustice.

“If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equalities Act and other diversity legislation will be overturned or overhauled so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their conscience.

“People with orthodox views on sexual ethics are excluded from employment because they don’t fit in with the equalities and diversity agenda. It is this which we want to see addressed. Such injustice cannot be allowed to continue.”

Source The Telegraph

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As a result, no doubt,  of the encouragement of the one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, the Christian Legal Centre in England (a Think-Tank for conservative Christians), is among other petitioners  who have brought petitions before the European Court, asking it to investigate perceived injustices towards four separate people against whom action has been taken by their employers for alleged acts of employment irregularities.

When one studies the situation of each of the complainants, two of them were penalties imposed for wearing a religious emblem (a Cross) at work. One of these was concerned with a nurse working in as hospital, which forbade any sort of necklace arrangement that might get caught up during the carrying out of her duties; the other, concerned an airline employee, for whom it was seen to be inappropriate: these two cases do seem to have been contentious.

The other two cases, however, were where the complainants were the instruments of clear discrimination – one involved a counsellor who refused to offer therapy for a homosexual; while the other cocnerned a council-employed Civil Partnership Celebrant, who refused to officiate at the Civil Partnerships of same-sex couples.

The ‘Christian Legal Centre’, one of the organisations actually bringing these cases before the European Court, may have take note of the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s  campaign against what he has called Anti-Christian Discrimination in the U.K. by the legal requirements of the British Government. It would seem that the conservative wing of the Church of England is not happy about the recent moves to give same-sex couples the right to Civil Partnerships. They also disagree with the rights of equal employment opportunity given to members of the LGBT community. Bringing these cases before the European Court is certainly one way, one supposes, of getting maximum exposure for their cause. Whether it is good for the Church to be seen to aid and abet discrimination on these points is perhaps another matter. It will be most interesting to see what the outcome of this latest development will bring.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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