REACTING to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which upheld one of four high profile cases brought by Christians who complained of religious discrimination in their workplaces, the National Secular Society’s Executive Director, Keith Porteous Wood, said today:
First and foremost, this ruling demonstrates that UK equality law is fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and that there is no need to change UK law. Any attempt to do so by the Government would therefore signal a clear desire to give privileged treatment to religious believers, and would be robustly challenged.
Nadia Eweida, who made a long song-and-dance over wearing a cross to work, won her case against British Airways. Judges ruled Eweida’s rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In the cases of the registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships and the counsellor who wouldn’t counsel gay couples – the principle of non-discrimination against gay people has been upheld. 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.
It is always better if employers can reach some kind of accommodation with their staff on these issues, and in the vast majority of cases, they do. But when employees refuse to carry out all the duties that their job entails, it is reasonable for employers to discipline them. Religious people who feel elements of their job go against their conscience can always find employment that better matches their needs. That is true religious freedom.
Referring to the Eweida case, he said it was:
A very limited victory which simply means that if employers want to prevent an employee wearing religious symbol for corporate image purposes, they must prove that their image is negatively affected by such manifestations of belief.
In the case of Chaplin we are pleased that the court has acknowledged that employers are better placed than the court to decide if jewellery is a health and safety risk and did not support the idea of blanket permission to wear religious symbols in the workplace.
In all four cases Christian applicants complained that UK law does not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work.
The NSS was the only organisation that intervened to support the UK Government to argue that all four cases of Eweida, Chaplin, Ladele and McFarlane were correctly dismissed by the UK courts.
Mike Judge, spokesman for The Christian Institute which backed Ladele’s case, said:
Obviously, we are disappointed to have lost by a majority decision. But we are encouraged that two judges thought we should have won.
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.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will be blathering on about the “intolerance of aggressive secularism” when he addresses the think-tanks British Future and Policy Exchange in London today.
Pickles will say:
Faith provides a clear moral compass and a call to action that benefits society as a whole. At a time when Christians are under attack for their beliefs in different parts of the world, I am proud of the freedom of belief that exists in Britain.
But in recent years long-standing British liberties of freedom of religion have been undermined by the intolerance of aggressive secularism: taking people to task for wearing a cross or a rosary, beginning costly legal actions against council prayers – as if they had nothing better to do.
Hat tips: Too many to mention