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15 January 2013

Press release

ECHR-no clarity for Christians

Evangelical Alliance NI welcome the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in the Eweida case but are concerned at the reasoning in the other religious freedom cases announced today. The mixed result means continuing uncertainty for Christians in the workplace. The court has found that Nadia Eweida, a British Airway’s (BA) employee who wished to wear a cross, suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs. However, the court ruled against Lillian Ladele, a registrar who refused to participate in civil partnerships, on the basis of her conscience and beliefs. This was despite strong dissent from two judges who described the borough of Islington as acting with “blinkered political correctness.”

Peter Lynas, a former barrister and director of EANI commented:

"We got mixed messages in these four cases. The Prime Minister is said to be ‘delighted’ that the principle of wearing religious symbols has been upheld but government lawyers fought these cases all the way. People can wear crosses at work, except where health and safety gets in the way. A dissenting judgement in the Ladele case said that the local Borough had favoured gay rights over fundamental human rights, yet she lost her case."

In the Eweida case the ECHR found that the domestic courts had placed too much weight on BA's aim to project a certain corporate image. Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the judgment was “an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense’. She said British courts had ‘lost their way’ in Ms Eweida's case and that ‘Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance”. (1)

Peter Lynas commented:

"This case established a precedent that Christians can manifest their religious beliefs in work when it comes to wearing a cross. However, more broadly, these cases highlight the failure to understand the true nature of a faith that can never be restricted to private lives.

"The Ladele case is the most worrying. Two dissenting judges found that instead of practising the tolerance and the ‘dignity for all’ it preached, the Borough of Islington pursued the doctrinaire line, the road of obsessive political correctness. However, by a majority of five judges to two, the court found that Islington Council and the UK courts acted within an allowed margin of appreciation when handling different convention rights, in this case the competing rights of sexual orientation and religious belief.

"The failure of the court to protect the religious freedom of Lillian Ladele in living out her faith in a way consistent with historic Christian belief shows the limitations of this judgement. We need solutions that will allow for the reasonable accommodation of the expressions of religious belief in all its diverse forms.

"Nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her fight to wear a cross because the court found that hospital managers have wide discretion in applying health and safety regulations. While this is understandable, better religious literacy needs to be developed to ensure this ground is not abused. The court also ruled against Gary McFarlane, in the case against his employer, Relate, but recognised the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life.

"We hope that in the light of today's decision, employers, public bodies, and courts will seek to understand religious belief better and build relationships with faith groups to help achieve this. The alternative of a society that is in perpetual legal conflict with itself is both undesirable and unsustainable."

Media Enquiries

David Smyth, public policy officer, Northern Ireland

Peter Lynas, Director of Northern Ireland

Notes to Editors

The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.