Victory for religious symbols; defeat for the religious conscience
British Airways check-in worker Nadia Eweida (top right) has won the right to wear a cross at work. The landmark ruling was made by the European Court of Human Rights Today (full judgment HERE). Basically, the Court found that her rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to be able to manifest religion.
The court said this was because 'a healthy democratic society needs to tolerate and sustain pluralism and diversity; but also because of the value to an individual who has made religion a central tenet of his or her life to be able to communicate that belief to others'.
This is a defeat for the Government, which opposed the case on the basis that religious freedoms apply only to the private sphere (despite the Prime Minister declaring in Parliament that Christians should be allowed to wear the cross at work).
The other claimants all lost their cases. They included nurse Shirley Chaplin, who was taken off ward duties for refusing to remove a cross necklace that she had worn to work for 30 years. In her case, the court ruled: 'The reason for asking her to remove the cross, namely the protection of health and safety on a hospital ward, was inherently of a greater magnitude than that which applied in respect of Ms Eweida.'
Gary McFarlane, a relationships counsellor, and Lillian Ladele, a registrar, had both asked their employers to accommodate their religious conscience in regard to civil partnerships and homosexual relationships. Ms Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council, in London, for refusing to perform same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. Her lawyers argued that employers should make 'reasonable accommodation' for religious beliefs. Mr McFarlane was sacked for gross misconduct by the charity Relate after he said that he would not be able to provide sex therapy to same-sex couples.
Responding to the judgements, the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said: 'Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination. Christians are not obliged to wear a cross but should be free to show their love for and trust in Jesus Christ in this way if they so wish.
‘In July 2012, the General Synod stated that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern their lives in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture and to manifest their faith in public life as well as in private. This means giving expression to their beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in practical acts of service to the local community and to the nation.
‘The Equality Act 2010 encourages employers to embrace diversity – including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule.’
His Grace is delighted for Ms Eweida. But it is a curious accommodation of the 'fundamental right' to manifest religious belief in the workplace which permits Roman Catholic doctors and nurses to deprive women of their right to abort their babies, but then forces council workers and charity employees to transgress their consciences on the issue of same-sex relationships. In what sense is a woman's legal right to abortion a lesser right than the right of homosexuals to be civilly partnered?
It is a curious notion of religious liberty that puts symbolic trinkets above the religious conscience.