LONDON, January 16, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A group of British Christians have been told by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that they have no right to act on their beliefs. The case was brought by the UK’s Christian Institute on behalf of two employees who had suffered discipline at work for wearing crosses, and two others who could not in conscience participate in or endorse homosexual partnerships.
The court ruled in three out of the four cases that the severe sanctions and dismissal from employment did not constitute a violation of Article 9 (freedom of religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Only in the case of a British Airways employee sacked for wearing a small cross at work was the UK found guilty of a violation of her religious freedom. The court ruled that because members of other religions were accommodated by British Airways with their wishes to wear religious items, Christian symbols ought to be allowed as well.
The court treated all four cases as one, and said that while Christians should be allowed to wear religious symbols at work, they could not refuse to participate in homosexual civil partnership ceremonies or counsel homosexual couples as though they were in legitimate marriages.
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The court said it was “not disproportionate” to dismiss the three other employees on the grounds that the sanctions were proportionate to the enforcement of the employer’s “equality and diversity policies”.
Sophia Kuby of the European Dignity Watch NGO called the ruling a case of “obsessive political correctness trumping religious freedom.” These “equality and diversity” policies, she said, while claiming to be about safeguarding freedoms are having the opposite effect.
It is an “obvious paradox” that they are “creating new discrimination against Christians,” she said. The ruling has “marked a new step in the discrimination against Christians who act according to their consciences or wear a non-controversial sign of their faith.”
Two of the justices dissented and issued a minority ruling saying, “The state is obliged to respect the individual’s freedom of conscience.”
“Instead of practising the tolerance of the ‘dignity for all’ it preached, the Borough of Islington pursued the doctrinaire line, the road of obsessive political correctness,” said the dissenting ruling. “It effectively sought to force the applicant to act against her conscience of face the extreme penalty of dismissal – something which … cannot be deemed necessary in a democratic society.”
Kuby noted that the decision is particularly worrisome since in one case, the complainant had been sacked for merely bringing his concerns to his employers.
Gary McFarlane was a relationship counsellor with the therapy service Relate. In 2008, when he expressed his concern over the request that he be prepared to provide same-sex couples with psycho-sexual therapy. Although he had never asked to be exempt, he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
Another of the complainants was Lillian Ladele, a Christian former marriage registrar who had been pushed out of her job at a London Council. In the ruling, five of the judges rejected her claim, but two said that she had indeed suffered discrimination because of her Christian beliefs about marriage.
Ladele worked for 16 years as a civil marriage registrar for the Islington Council in London. In 2004, when the Labour government passed legislation creating homosexual civil unions, she made arrangements with co-workers to cover the cases she felt she could not, but the Council refused to accommodate her beliefs or offer any solution. Finally she was confronted with the blunt demand that she conduct a homosexual civil partnership ceremony herself, an act that her religious beliefs and conscience could not accept. That was when she took the case to the Employment Tribunal.
The Tribunal agreed that the Council had created an impossibly hostile work environment due exclusively to Ladele’s “orthodox Christian beliefs” and found that she had been discriminated against. The Council had refused to consider her for promotion, disciplined and threatened her with dismissal and accused her of gross misconduct. They were also found to have failed to redress allegations that she was “homophobic” and had labelled and treated her as “homophobic”.
Mike Judge, spokesman for The Christian Institute, which supported Ladele’s case, 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.”
Judge added that Ladele still had the option of pursuing the case further up the line to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, but that she had not yet informed the Christian Institute of her decision.