The European Court of Human Rights is set to hand down its judgment next week on the cases of four British Christians who claim that UK law does not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion by preventing religious discrimination at work.
The UK Government has fought the four long-running cases right up to European level, stating that in some cases Christians will need to leave their faith at home, or consider alternative employment.
One case concerns Lillian Ladele, a registrar at Islington Council, who brought a claim against her former employers claiming she was pushed out of her job because of her stance against civil partnerships.
Another of the cases is that of Gary McFarlane, a relationship counselor from Bristol, who was sacked by his employer Relate Avon after refusing to give advice to gay couples on account of his religious beliefs.
The two other cases being considered are those of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, who were both told by their employers, British Airways and the NHS respectively, that they could no longer wear a crucifix at work.
Lawyers for the four, represented by the Christian Council, claim that their strongly held religious beliefs should be respected by UK law and believe that it is wrong that Christians should have fewer workplace rights than those belonging to other faiths.
However, lawyers for the Government claim that all four were free to seek alternative employment if company policies conflicted with their religious beliefs. They added that as the wearing of the cross was not a ‘scriptural requirement’ of Christianity, the employees were breaking no religious commitments by not wearing them.
The Government’s tough line, particularly on the right to wear a crucifix at work, appears to directly conflict with the views of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has previously openly supported individuals’ rights to wear crosses and has even suggested the law may be changed to protect that right.
James Eadie QC represented the UK Government in Strasbourg.
“There is a difference between the professional sphere where your religious beliefs conflict with other interests and the private sphere,” he told the court.
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