Religious freedom prevails at European court…in part

European Court of Human Rights upholds right to wear cross but overrides Christian conscience in other cases
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  Roger Kiska

STRASBOURG, France — The European Court of Human Rights Tuesday upheld religious freedom in a pivotal British case but dismissed three other cases of religious discrimination that originated in the United Kingdom.

In Eweida v. United Kingdom, the court determined that the U.K. violated a British Airways employee’s right to freedom of religion contained in the European Convention on Human Rights when the airline forced her to cover up her cross necklace. The court dismissed the other three cases that were part of the ruling. The decision is not yet final and can be appealed to the court’s highest level of appeal, the Grand Chamber.

“Christian employees should not be singled out for discrimination. No one should have to hide their faith or act contrary to it. That type of intolerance is inconsistent with the values of civilized communities,” said Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska. “Today’s victory for one of the Christian applicants is a significant step forward for religious freedom in Europe; however, it is extremely disappointing that the court ruled against the three other applicants. We hope they will appeal that decision to the Grand Chamber of the court.”

Eweida and Chaplin v. United Kingdom involved Christian women required to cover up or remove cross necklaces. One of the women, Nadia Eweida, worked at the British Airways check-in counter at London’s Heathrow Airport.

“Ms Eweida’s cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance,” the court wrote. “There was no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorised, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees, had any negative impact on British Airways’ brand or image.”

The other woman, Shirley Chaplin, worked as a nurse at a government-run hospital and had worn her confirmation cross without incident for more than 30 years in front line care. The government made accommodation for some employees of other faiths, such as Hindus or Muslims, but not for Chaplin or Eweida. Nonetheless, the court dismissed Chaplin’s lawsuit, choosing to accept the hospital’s “health and safety” concerns.

Ladele and McFarlane v. United Kingdom involved two Christians fired for declining to engage in acts contrary to their faith. Lillian Ladele is a Christian woman with an exemplary employment record who was disciplined after she asked to be exempt from registering same-sex civil partnerships--a service that had never been part of her original job description. Gary McFarlane once served as an elder of a large Christian church in Bristol. Despite being a successful counselor for a large national counseling service, McFarlane was dismissed for gross misconduct after mentioning as part of a training course that providing same-sex couples with psychosexual therapy would be in violation of his conscience and deeply held religious beliefs. The court dismissed both cases.

Alliance Defending Freedom provided funding for the case of Nadia Eweida in the domestic proceedings. In 2011, Alliance Defending Freedom and former Slovakian Prime Minister and key figure in the Velvet Revolution Jan Carnogursky intervened in defense of the four Christians. Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Paul Coleman was present at the counsel’s table during the September 2012 European Court of Human Rights hearings alongside Barrister Paul Diamond. Diamond is lead counsel in the Chaplin and McFarlane cases and one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.
  • Pronunciation guide: Eweida (eh-WY’-duh), Ladele (luh-DELL’-ee), McFarlane (mick-FAR’-lin)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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