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03 September 2012

Christians take religious liberty cases to European court

Christians take religious liberty cases to European court

The government must send a clear message to the public that it is ok to be a Christian in 21st century Britain, the Alliance's director of advocacy has said ahead of a landmark hearing into religious freedom in Strasbourg this week.

Four Christians who claim they have been discriminated against by their employers and the UK courts are taking their challenges to the European Court of Human Rights.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, 4 September) marks the start of what could be a watershed moment in laws concerning religious liberty.

Among the four cases is that of Lillian Ladele, a registrar who was forced to take part in civil partnership work against her beliefs, and Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor who was accused of not providing counselling to same-sex couples.

Eminent lawyer Michael Rubenstein said that Ladele's case was a "key case for 2012" because she was forced to take part in civil partnership work, despite there being many other registrars at Islington Council who could have met the demand.

He also said that management at the council failed to investigate Ladele's written complaint that she was being singled out and bullied by colleagues because she was a Christian.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal also found that the council had acted in an "improper, unreasonable and extraordinary manner".

The outcomes of the test cases to be heard in Strasbourg this week could have far-reaching consequences for religious liberty in the UK.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "The cases now before the European Court of Human Rights all serve to expose the legal inconsistencies in how religion is treated in public life.

"However, the Ladele case is particularly important because it holds the potential to have profound consequences for how Christians can faithfully live out their faith. If people are to be disbarred from certain jobs on the basis of their core beliefs then only atheists need apply.

"What's clear is that the law and its interpretation are fundamentally flawed. We need to review the Equality Act, reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and get some clear messages from our government that it's ok to be a Christian in 21st century Britain."

The other two cases involve Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Shirley Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, who were stopped from wearing visible crosses while at work.

Earlier this year, the Clearing the Ground report was published, which revealed the findings of an inquiry into the freedom of believers in the UK undertaken by Christians in Parliament and facilitated by the Evangelical Alliance.

The report called for changes in the law to ensure that the freedom of believers in the UK are not eroded.

Judgments in EHCR the cases are expected in the next few months.

Do you think Christians are being marginalised in the UK? Vote in our poll of the week.