European court says no to hearing on Christian claims of discrimination

(Photo Credit: European Court of Human Rights / Screenshot)Judge Lech Garlicki, of the European Court of Human Rights (center), speaks ahead of a case on religious discrimination in Strasbourg, France on September 4, 2012.

In what amounts to a final word, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected the appeals of three British Christians in a case of supposed discrimination.

Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele are three separate employees who said they were disciplined (or fired) from their places of employment for their Christian belief.

After not finding the justice they wanted in British courts or in lower appeals at the European Court on Human Rights, the three filed an appeal to the Grand Chamber in April.

Proponents of the three Christians had hoped the case being heard by the final arbiter on human rights in the super-national system would draw a line in the sand against what they see as politically correct targeting of persons of Christian faith.

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, the organization, which represents McFarlane and Chaplin, said to the British newspaper The Telegraph in April that this case would throw down the gauntlet on whether Britain would allow religious persecution.

"These are cases where the only victims were the Christians trying to live out their faith in the workplace but who were driven out for doing so," Williams said.

Two of the incidents in question involved Christians expressing their beliefs on same-sex marriage.

McFarlane, a counsellor, was fired after expressing a personal struggle about conducting sex therapy with same-sex couples.

Dismissed for expressing his beliefs "on a wholly theoretical basis," according to his legal representative Paul Diamond, McFarlane lost his job without actually refusing to offer therapy to couples from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestite community.

Similarly, marriage registrar Ladele asked to be excused from performing same-sex marriages.

Following the request, the council of the London borough of Islington disciplined her.

While a lower court found the actions acceptable, two judges broke ranks by writing a scathing dissenting judgment that said conscious is being sacrificed in favor of "political correctness."

However, the most paradoxical of the cases involves Chaplain.

A nurse from Exeter, Chaplain was forbidden and reprimanded for wearing a cross to work. In January, the European Court said that her right of expression could be overridden in cases of "health and safety."

This creates a contrast, because the three cases in question have been tied by the Strasbourg-based court to the case of Nadia Eweida of British Airlines.

Eweida, a Coptic Christian, has been an employee of British Airlines at Heathrow Airport when her employers forbid her to wear a crucifix to work.

Like Ladele, Eweida pleaded the case to British courts where she was denied the ability to express her Christian faith in the workplace.

However, the European Court of Human Rights found in January that she had been mistreated by her employer and the British court system, despite also rejecting the three above cases in the same ruling.

While the Strasbourg judges did not criticize British law, they did state that UK courts failed to fairly balance the interests of an employer's corporate image and an employee's religious beliefs.

All of the cases reflect a growing political tension in Britain in relation to Christian freedoms.

July 2012, in the House of Commons, British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his support for Eweida, stating that he would even change the law to explicitly protect the rights of the faithful to wear religious symbols.

"I think it is an absolutely vital freedom," Cameron said. He went on to promise that if the law does not ultimately protect Eweida and other religious people that he would then, "Change the law and make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work."

In the ten months since that declaration, there has been no new law protecting religious freedoms.

While Cameron tweeted support of the European Court's ruling in January in relation to Eweida, he has left some Christians uneasily weary on the matter.

"We are throwing down the gauntlet to David Cameron to decide once and for all whether he is in favor of religious freedom or not," said Williams of the Christian Legal Centre in January.

Her statements reveal a growing distrust among members of the Christian community with the Conservative Cameron's leadership of the government.

During Good Friday earlier this year, the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey wrote a scathing editorial in The Daily Mail newspaper, criticizing Cameron's lack of protection for Christian interests, particularly in his pursuit of legalizing gay marriage.

"The government risks entrenching a very damaging division in British society by driving law-abiding Christians into the ranks of the malcontents and alienated – of whom there are already far too many," Carey wrote.

The former archbishop also noted that more than half of the Christians surveyed in a ComRes (British polling consultancy) poll said that they would "definitely not" vote for Cameron and the Tory party in 2015.

With the failure of Chaplain, McFarlane and Ladele's cases of even being heard by the Grand Chamber, the rift between the conservative party and alienated Christians may continue to grow.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News