September 4th, 2012
08:07 AM ET

Christians take discrimination cases to Europe's top court

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Four British Christians urged Europe's top court Tuesday to rule that they faced discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

Two women accuse their employers of refusing to let them wear crosses openly at work.

Alongside them, a woman who declined to register gay civil partnerships and a man who did not want to give sex therapy to same-sex couples say they were unfairly dismissed from their jobs.

Gary McFarlane, the relationship counselor, said he was pleased with the way Tuesday's hearing went.

"Today, for the first time, I heard somebody talking about my rights," he said. "Surely I have some rights. I am a member of society. I have some beliefs."

He called it a "tragedy" that the case had gone all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

He blamed "overzealous employers" who "would not consider reasonable accommodation" for his religious beliefs.

He never refused to treat a specific couple, raising his religious objections only in the abstract, said Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting him.

He and the other three Christians are fighting the British government, saying it failed to protect their rights.

The case could help to draw a clear boundary in cases where religious views contradict laws against discrimination. It will have implications across 47 countries on the continent. The court ruling will not be binding in Britain in the way that a Supreme Court ruling would be, but the country is legally obliged to take it into account.

The four - Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, who wanted to wear crosses; registrar Lilian Ladele; and McFarlane, the relationship counselor - have lost every round of their battles through the British legal system.

They're now making their claims under European human rights law, focusing on guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work.

Eweida, who works for British Airways, said she experienced discrimination from 2006 to 2007, when she started wearing the cross visibly and was transferred to another job. The airline has since changed its policy on uniforms to allow employees to wear religious or charity symbols.

But Chaplin, a nurse, ultimately lost her job after her employer changed its uniforms to include V-necks, which made her cross visible. Her manager asked her to remove it for fear it could lead to injury when she was working with patients, according to court papers.

She refused.

Both women lost their cases in British employment tribunals.

Eweida's tribunal ruled that wearing a cross was a personal choice, not a requirement of Christianity, while Chaplin's tribunal found there were legitimate health and safety reasons to bar her from wearing the symbol around her neck.

Chaplin said Tuesday that she didn't believe it.

"The council that runs risk assessment said they have no previous cases of injury from crucifixes," she said after the hearing concluded.

Ladele and McFarlane also lost employment tribunal battles, with the tribunals finding that their employers could require them to perform their jobs.

Their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate religious views that contradicted British laws banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, the tribunals found.

All four Christians were denied hearings further up the British legal chain, pushing their cases to the European Court in Strasbourg.

Its rulings normally take months after a case is argued.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Britain • Christianity • Church and state • Europe • Religious liberty

soundoff (1,277 Responses)
  1. Anon


    September 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  2. tuvia









    Gantz cautions Iran: IDF can hit any place, anytime By YAAKOV LAPPIN09/02/2012 20:18IDF chief of staff responds to threats to "wipe Israel off the map," says IDF ready for any scenario; Barak: Map of Middle East changing before our eyes, Israel must be prepared. PHOTO: REUTERS
    The IDF is ready to reach any enemy target at any time, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday, during an awards ceremony for reserve army units.

    "Recently, we've heard threats from near and far enemies to 'wipe out' the State of Israel from the map of the Middle East. In all these, I can say that the IDF is ready for any scenario. We will reach any place, anytime, and defend this nation," Gantz said, speaking at the residence of President Shimon Peres.

    IAF strikes targets in Gaza in response to rockets
    'Decreased US presence in drill not sign of change'
    In recent weeks, Iranian leaders, from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni to military officials, have stepped up threats to annihilate Israel. Khameni described Israel as a "cancerous tumor" and "the biggest problem confronting Muslim countries today." The threats coincided with a message from Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who threatened to kill tens of thousands of Israeli civilians in a future confrontation by striking strategic sites with rockets.

    The threats came as tensions rose over Iran's ongoing nuclear program.

    Defense Minister Ehud Barak also spoke at Sunday's award, saying, "In the past two years, the map of the region is changing before eyes. Nations went out into the streets and toppled totalitarian states. Reality has given birth to unexpected results, more than once."

    Barak added that Israel resides in an unstable Middle East, and is surrounded by a "stormy sea, big parts of which refuse to accept it as a member of the nations with equal rights." He said that the "reality in which we live has presented us with heavy challenges, the need to fully use utilize resources, [and] to prepare for all developments that may come from near or from afar."

    September 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • bintalshamsa

      Pollard is a terrorist. There is no reason to treat him any differently from other terrorists. We could just as easily say that Taliban Johnny should be allowed to go home to his family, because someone thinks he's served enough time. A spy is a spy is a spy.

      September 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • CosmicC

      I am an American and a Zionist (and an atheist for that matter). He broke the law, he stays in jail. Period. Why pardon a criminal?
      BTW, Israel lost a real opportunity in not supporting democratic uprisings, especially in Egypt. Now, not only do Egyptians hate Israel for the old politico-religious reasons, they can add on support for a dictator.

      September 5, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  3. CosmicC

    It's a bit more complex than that. Evangelical Christians believe they are commanded to spread their beliefs ("evangelize"). To them anything that prevents them from doing so (such as the 1st Amendment) is opression. They conveniently ignore the fact that their practice of religion, by definition, denies others the same freedom they seek.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  4. crappygovernment

    As always, Atheism is being pushed by greasy ex-Communist types from Eastern Europe. Don't be a lemming and join these soulless, pretentious types! Reason is from man who is very fallible.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  5. CosmicC

    I am the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Thou shalt have no other monsters before Me. (Afterwards is OK; just use protection.) The only Monster who deserves capitalization is Me! Other monsters are false monsters, undeserving of capitalization.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  6. clubschadenfreude

    As always, Christians claim discrimination when they can't force their religion on others. Pity that they must devalue the real persecution their fellows actually go through with such pathetic nonsense.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  7. Johnny

    If you're a public servant and you refuse to perform a public service that has been established by law, then perhaps you should choose another field.

    September 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  8. Mike

    Hey Christians...Jesus said the world will hate you because of him, so you knew going into it what you would face. It was your choice; deal with it. But also take comfort in it.

    September 5, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Mark From Middle River

      While I agree, there is a point that you do or should take a stand. I have been following this story on the BBC and even as a Christian I disagree with all but the Christian Cross case.

      September 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      Sorry mike, hate to burst your bubble but those words were not spoken by jesus...they were merely written by men who never even knew jesus personally, only wrote about him 40-100 years after his supposed death . The entire bible is the work of mere mortals, written over a long period of time, then edited by more people to fit an agenda of power and money. Learn the history of your religion please.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  9. crappygovernment

    Cowardly Britons are being pushed around by the dregs they let in after ww2.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  10. crappygovernment

    No one hates Christianity more than Bolsheviks. They were the winners of ww2. Now they promote Atghiesm/Agnostisicism/Secularism in the West.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • LittleHero

      Remember you have to keep that tin foil hat shiny to protect yourself from CIA mind control. You didn't put the shiny side on the inside did you?

      September 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  11. ROMNEY2012

    My God and beat up your god

    September 5, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  12. Bible Clown©

    The strangest thing here is the malignant Christian who keeps stealing Tom's handle and raving at him. I reckon his image of God has horns and a tail? Why would you attempt to honor or defend your deity by using lies and deceit? I will never understand the convoluted minds of you believers if I live fifty more years. It's an open admission that you can't beat him in an honest debate, so you do the equivalent of keying his car.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's probably Brophy. He holds a grudge.

      September 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  13. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:-------->>>>

    Putting the kibosh/”google” on religion to include Mormonism:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    September 5, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  14. USA

    There is No Allah but Jesus Only

    September 5, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Odin rules

      September 5, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Reality

      No, no, no, Zeus rules forever !!!!

      September 5, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Huebert

      All hail Jupiter.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • CosmicC

      Allah is the Arabic word for God. Arab Christians use the word Allah when referring to God. Now, please change your handle, your uninformed pseudo-religious rant is UnAmerican and gives the rest of us a bad name.

      September 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  15. Geoff

    When penguins mate while wearing religious symbols we all should be thankful.

    September 5, 2012 at 6:13 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:35 am |
    • Fred Evil

      Yea, umm,no, no it doesn't.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:39 am |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  17. ScottCA


    September 5, 2012 at 3:52 am |
  18. I don't THINK so

    I get the ironic tone but feel compelled to point out that "Religious Logic" is an oxymoron.

    September 5, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Chew em if you got em

      Good point. I agree.

      September 5, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • David

      Hmmm, I suppose you've never read Thomas Aquinas.

      September 5, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • ScottCA

      Faith means to believe in something for no good reason.
      There is nothing reasonable or logical about faith based religion.

      September 5, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Yo

      That david dont know how to logic, yo

      September 5, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Aquinas' 5 proofs don't quite hold water.
      His frist argument, regarding motion, no longer holds thank to Einstein.
      Relativity tells us that all motion relative to the observer, and not to some unmoving reference.
      There can therefore be no "unmoved mover".
      The second and third arguments (Causation of existence and contingent/necessary objects) fall into a loop of infinite regression. Where did God come from? Simply saying "God is maaaaagic" doesn't work. The top turtle is no more special than the bottom one.
      The agrument of degrees and perfection assumes quite a bit. It states that every property that an object can have exists in degrees in other objects, therefore somewhere out there an object has said property to the ultimate degree, therefore God exists because He is the ultimate degree of every possible property.
      It's even more circular that the two preceding arguments that fall into the infinite regression loop.
      And lastly there's the intelligent design argument that goes like this: A mindless object that acts must have designed by an object that thinks, therefore God exists becuase we exist.

      September 5, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Athy

      Sort of like saying "stupid smart" or "red black", isn't it?

      September 5, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  19. ScottCA

    This is too funny. I am sure every rational mind here will get a laugh out of this one.
    Dawkins you ROCK! Epic video!

    September 5, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • old ben

      Hilarious. Thanks for posting.

      September 5, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • therealpeace2all


      That was priceless ! Unfortunately, there are way too many believers that have this kind of att itude.


      September 5, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  20. ScottCA


    September 5, 2012 at 2:07 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.