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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. immaannoid

    If your archaic religious beliefs cause you to be biased and unable to do your job, you should be sacked. The person in this article that is doing the discriminating is the wack job that got fired, as they should have been.
    When are the religious nuts going to learn they can't force their silly morals on others?

    September 4, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      I agree with you but let's get one thing straight ... they are forcing their "beliefs" on others not morals, morals come from society not religion.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • immaannoid

      Good point.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  2. phillip meacham

    yes andrew you are right,false prophets and all others who use religion for personal gain will all so go to hell which by the way is a very real place,the sadest words someone will ever hear is when they stand before God and he says depart from me for I do not know you .

    September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Atheus

      Hell is a very real place? Have you been there? Have you seen it with your own eyes? Saying Hell is a real place because the Bible says so is like saying Metropolis is a real place because Superman comic books say so.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Atheus

      Unless, of course, you are talking about Hell, Michigan. That is a very real place.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Detroit is real?!?!

      September 4, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Atheus

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell,_Michigan

      September 4, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  3. Cody

    This really happens? WoW. I would love to live there. I'm so sick of the nut jobs here in the states.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Atheus

      Amen, brother.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • rob0rah

      Move.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  4. prophet

    just to correct you all i am not a chsritian i Believe in God and most of you have insulted Our God too much, don't like what you read then learn to take what you give out as this shows your ignorance thats is okay for you atheists to insult, hypocrites, you talk about freedom and yet you don't allow the freedom of speech

    September 4, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Have you been arrested or fined for speaking? No? Then your freedom of speech hasn’t been infringed upon idiot. Those atheists have just as much right to speak and disagree with you as you have to speak.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Lilith

      Nobody's stopping you and you're posting original insulting statements, not responses. So, who's the hypocrite?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Atheus

      It seems to me that the only ones doing any insulting are you and the other religious bigots on here.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Please explain how my freedom of speech to speak against your mental illness prohibits your right to be a m0r0n.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • immaannoid

      No one is saying you can't speak, they are saying you can't use religion as an excuse to discriminate. Feel free to go to church, pray where you need to, that is fine.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Your religion doesn't give you the "right" to spout whatever bigoted, racist crap you want and walk away from the court of public opinion unscathed. If the government arrests you for it, I'll fight on your side to the end. But, until that happens, you're a dimwit.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • truth be trolled

      Tom he/she might have been fined for improper use of the English language.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      No kidding

      September 4, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  5. palintwit

    Studies have shown time and time again that the biggest incidence of child molestation and incest occurs among families living in the bible belt areas. Evangalical christian families where the patriarch typically has only one tooth.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • immaannoid

      Really? Name one.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • George

      I see your self-esteem is running low-again. Just another witless, liberal hypocrite heard from who sits in self-righteous judgement and fear of those who disagree. Obviously, a conserve-a-phobe.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      Silly one. Sins against children no no boundaries. You need to quote your sources when making such an inflammatory statement

      September 4, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Most jobs have a dress code.
    Filling out your personal paper work is a requirement for your employment and everyone I’ve seen says if you lie on it then you lose your job.
    If you refuse to do your job..whether it was to a specific (or not) couple…then you lose your job period.

    In short, leave your personal religious beliefs at home and do your jobs or find a new one. You are not victims.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Anne112

      I agree! Do your job or risk being fired or at least reprimanded.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Xgirl360

      Exactly. I wear an Orthodox Crucifix nearly every day. I've had several jobs that asked that no jewelry be worn on sight. One was a care facility because if one of the children got violent, they could grab earrings, etc and hurt you. I never felt my religious rights were being infringed. The cross gives me comfort because of where I bought it and what was going on in my life. I don't need it to be Christian. In Russia, they say true believer does not wear their cross openly, that is pride not faith.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • WOW

      Is it okay to allow one religious symbol, such as a cross, to be displayed on ones self and another symbol not to be displayed on ones self in a dress code for a job? I would think there would be cases that this would apply however in thinking this over I would also think it should be equal that if one symbol is not allowed then no other symbols should be allowed. Basically clothing that has no symbols on them including any accessories that could be worn. Sounds a little like having a dictator ruling over you doesn't it? I for one believe if my employer came to me and told me I was not to wear, openly, my religious symbol then I would do that employer a favor and leave that company for I would not wish to work for someone like that.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  7. Nonamerequired

    Nothing says faith like wearing the device used to torture and execute your messiah. Because there is REALLY no better way of expressing your appreciation than wearing some symbol of death.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  8. Lilith

    If you turn to God, you'll only get dizzy.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  9. If my religion says to KILL CHRISTIANS

    Should I be allowed to do so?

    When can I start?

    September 4, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  10. prophet

    two atheists lumberjacks go looking for a job and they see on the sign Tree Fellers wanted and the one says to the other, this is no good for us as there is only two of us.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Primewonk

      Except, of course, that the actuall research shows that on average, atheists have IQ's 5.9 points higher than fundiots.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  11. Striker

    There is two laws that Jesus wants all christians to follow. Love him as your lord and savior and love thy neighbor. Thats it! Whats so hard about that. Whats wrong with people wearing crosses around there necks, fire dpts having memorials with a little prayer, or a garden in the shape of a cross. Nothing yet you unbeliviers have to go and spoil everything because you dont believe. If its not causing you danger or harm, Mind your own freaken business!

    September 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • My, that's quite a bit of UNCHRISTIAN anger you have going there

      Perhaps you should pray to Jeebus some more.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Thanks for the line of BS that no one believes. If thats the case then why bother having a bible? You must be a cherry picking false christian. Your book preaches much more than what you chose to represent. It's evil and so are it's followers. The world will be better off when your fairy tales are left to comic books and the fiction section at Barnes and Nobles.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • JDA

      In the U.S., religious memorials are fine on private land. On public land however, that is another case. How about the people involved in some tragedy that were not religious or didn't follow the Christian religion which is predominately the religion chosen to represent the victims. How is that not violating their and their families rights? To keep religious displays off of public grounds is actually upholding EVERYONE'S religious beliefs as it does not allow any to discriminate against any other one. No one is telling anyone that they can't have their own religious belief, only that others' have a right to their beliefs too and one can't trump the other's rights.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Cody

      There are over 600 rules/laws in the bible...I suggest you actually read them before having an opinion on the subject.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Cherie1234

      I am a Christian and I acknowledge that wearing crosses in view is not always appropriate. I don't think anyone should have to hide their faith but it shouldn't be flaunted either. There are definitely some job situations that jewelry presents a safety hazard.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • AJD13

      Thank you, Cherie, for such a reasonable opinion on religious belief and the merits of some of these claims of supposed discrimination.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  12. History Bear

    British courts keeping the muslim women from wearing head scarves at work, or Sikh turbans or is it just christians so they dont' upset the oil producers? A lot of nonsense on all sides.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • myweightinwords

      In these specific cases, there was 1) a dress code that prohibited all jewelry that would show outside the uniform 2) a genuine safety concern regarding something dangling from the neck.

      In neither case was the object in question a requirement of their religion, such as the Hajib or turban or other similar such objects.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  13. Godoflunaticscreation

    Why is it that Christians always cry about their right to take away other peoples rights? That is not how it works, sorry. Your right to swing your arm ends at my face. Christians,Jews and Muslims will shoot you in the face and then fall to the ground crying that their rights have been taken. When the world is rid of this mind rotting disease, humanity can finally begin living up to it's potential.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  14. prophet

    how to confuse an atheist

    put two shovels next to each other and tell him to take his pick

    September 4, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • BRC

      That should work, I do usually find random meaningless gestures very confusing.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Actually the best way to confuse an Atheist is for the Atheist to ask a believer "why" they believe .. the answers will boggle the rational Atheist mind.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Was that supposed to be funny?

      Or just insulting, in direct contradiction to your Lord and Savior's command to turn the other cheek and to love your enemy as yourself, and to not judge?

      Which is it – you just not being funny – or a heretic? WHICH IS IT???

      Ya just gotta love hypocritical Christians – because if you don't – they whine and snivel and play the victim card, the poor, poor things.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • DaveInCanada

      I dont get it, would a christian choose the more holy of the shovels? An athiest is just someone who applies reason and logic to a situation.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • CJ

      How to confuse a religious fundamentalist:

      Can “God” create a boulder so big that he CANNOT move?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  15. Marge

    If you enter a job or profession where you know you may have to deal with people or situations that go against your religious beliefs, why do you stay in that job? It's not just a matter of turning people over to another employee or business to help a client(s) either. Many on the religious right, especially in USA, won't refer people because they also feel that this is aiding and abetting a situation or lifestyle that they find upsets them and their god.

    If the religious right wing and their god can't take the heat, they need to stay out of the kitchen. Don't give in to them. Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile, trying to force their god into every body orifice they can think of, just like in the USA.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • truth teller

      muslis cabbies will not pick up any one carrying alcahol or who have pets,including service animals because of their "religion"whats the difference?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • truth teller

      muslim cabbies will not pick up any one carrying alcahol or who have pets,including service animals because of their "religion"whats the difference?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • BRC

      @Truth teller,
      Many cab drivers operate independently; if they choose not to make money by discriminating that's their own problem, it doesn't effect anyone else. If that driver works for a company and the dispatchers find out they're doing that, they'll probably be fired. So, no difference. The prinicipals work in both scenarios

      September 4, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  16. prophet

    it wasn't jesus on the cross, It was thew son of God, this is why i keep saying that you chrsitians are misled

    September 4, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Dan

      Jesus is the Son of God. What are you talking about?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  17. Jim

    My spiritual belief is that I should get free money all day long. I'm going to sue my employer for making me work.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Neil

      You sound like an atheist.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • DaveInCanada

      lol so true. I'm a communist but work in a Bank, can I distribute all the money to the poor without getting in trouble because of my beliefs????? Silly christians.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  18. Seyedibar

    Nothing says you care like wearing an antique torture device around your neck. Christians are so weird.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Neil

      Oh, that's right, we should forget or hide that Jesus died for all our sins.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Dan

      It was by that device that he overcame sin and death. We glory in the cross because he went there willingly for us.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  19. Civil law in civil society

    Those same people screaming their rights were violated will violently object to Sharia law, islamic law (I don't want ANY religious laws regulating civil life in our civil societies). IRONY: they are doing the same as Sharia law supporters. They want their religious beliefs to supercede civil law on which our multicultural and secular societies are based. Shame on the hypocrits. Why don't you work on a farm and shovel manure. I am sure the cows won't mind if you proselityzing them.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Agreed. Why is every religion's goal to try and obnoxiously convert the rest of the world to their primtiive beliefs?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Neil

      It's you atheists that are shoving your religion of atheism at everyone. Who are you trying to con?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Neil, exactly how is anyone "forcing" atheism on you? Are you being forced to attend atheist services? Observe atheist holidays? Pray atheist prayers?

      Oh, wait. None of those things exist, do they?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • My Head Hurts

      My biggest malfunction? Atheist aren't trying to shove their logic down your throat. I think that would actually be out of the norm for them. Honestly Christians are the worst about the Convert them all let god sort them out mentality. Y'all complain when you can't where your crosses and are "discriminated" against in the workplace. Well here's one – I'm Pagan. I am discriminated against by your kind every, single, fricking day. I am not taking my job to court because they won't let me practice my beliefs while at work, not let me wear my religious symbol at work. I don't so much as glare when I get told that in the bible it says suffer a witch not to live. In fact I do take a page out of the Athiest playbook, and ask where. Because no where in there does it say that. So all I have to say is, before you get your butt hurt over the fact that you Christians are getting descriminated against. Make sure that first, your religion isn't discriminating against everyone else that isn't like you.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • AJD13

      Thank you MHH....very well said. The biggest irony I find in this is that one of the Christians in this article is whining about discrimination because he is not being allowed to discriminate. I have had friends of many different faiths including Pagan and I have seen first hand the discrimination they deal with from supposed Christians who supposedly believe in "judge not lest ye be judged" but don't practice what they preach. It truly is disgusting and what they don't seem to realize is that the way they treat people is one big reason why the number of church attendees falls more and more every year while the number of "nones", people who profess no religion, grows and grows.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      My Head Hurts: Your comment is nonsense. Atheists have been very active on blogs and comments shoving their flawed logic down our throats. You must either not read them or ignore them as you focus on publicizing your atheism.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, bushwa, you silly sod. Atheists are doing nothing of the sort. Really, who's whining here?

      September 4, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  20. prophet

    barry turn to God as you seem to believe the lies, the church is not what you think, even the name church didn't exist at that time, try to learn about what really was then.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Neil

      Matthew 16:18 is just one of 130 plus times the word is mentioned in the Bible. Stop reading the NIV and stay with the KJV.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ah yes… the old… my version is better than your version LOL.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      You need Jesus. Your words continually prove your words are nonsense. The word "Him" didn't exist in Aramaic or ancient Hebrew or Greek texts either. And here's a newsflash: The word "The" does not exist in Latin or French. Please do a better job.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:50 am |
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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.