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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. Amniculi

    No matter how much I see it, it is always stunning to me how
    hypocritical religious people can be. The minute they perceive that
    someone is infringing on their religious rights (though that rarely,
    if ever happens, especially in the US) they are up in arms claiming
    "War on Christianity!" or some other such nonsense. But they have no
    problem preventing two people who love each other from expressing that
    love in a legal manner or, God forbid, getting married. Religion is
    like the old Ford quote about the Model T, "You can have any color as
    long as it's black." Until there are equal rights and protections for
    every person no matter their belief (or lack thereof), race, or
    preference of partner, we will never progress as a species.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Common Sense

      How do ga.ys not have equal rights????

      I'm straight and I do not have the right to marry an individual of the same gender either......

      I can see that simple logic does not have any presence on this board.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  2. palintwit

    Teabaggers in the US like to watch Deliverance. Teabaggers in England like to watch Benny Hill in a bra. Same thing.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Great film and a great show.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  3. Seraphimo

    I am a married gay man living in Canada and I think that this religious correctness has gone too far in the workplace. The test of whether these employees should have been fired is if it affected their service towards their customers.

    In the case of the ladies wearing the cross around their necks – I really do not see how this affects their job performance! Why should just wearing a cross be illegal?

    In the other case where the employee refuses to marry gay couples because it is against his beliefs, that is a clear case for dismissal. When your religious views clear influence your ability to do the CIVIL work you are being paid to do, then it is best for all that you go!

    All of these cases should be just on a per-case basis. Applying one blanket rule IS discriminatory and stupid.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Agree 100%.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Amniculi

      They're not being told they can't wear their crosses, they're being told that they can't be on display. To some people it might be offensive.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  4. Michael

    John, why don't you step up and take the same challenge you're issuing to me and actually NAME those Christian organizations that have been shut down by these governments? Just saying that it's happened isn't good enough... you should be able to name things that can be researched and verified.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      google radwad dawod

      September 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Rundvelt

    Employers have the right to enforce dress code at work. Most of these codes prevent open displays of religious symbols.

    You have a human right to believe what you want and to worship as you'd like. However, this does not extend to you being allowed to do whatever you want because you have faith.

    Then again, if you're going to let people wear articles that broadcast their religious views, I should be allowed to wear a t-shirt that says "Christianity is a fraud."

    September 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Christians should be allowed to wear a crucifix to work, and yes you should be allowed to wear that t-shirt.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Employers have to let Muslims, Christians, Mormons, and Jews should be allowed to wear whatever they want. Maybe we can ban neo-nazi signs, but not religious ones.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Brad

      I should be allowed to work naked. God put me in this world naked and it is my religious belief that I should stay naked.

      It should not matter that I am one of those people no one ever wants to see naked.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      No, it's everything or nothing. Anyway, most of those Neo Nazi symbols are based on Nordic and Germanic religions.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Brad, I agree. If you show up for the interview naked and they hire you then you should be allowed to dress that way

      September 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  6. Gingeet

    Definition of Discrimination for the religious = I didn't get my way! Waaaaahhhh.
    Somebody please tell these idiots to just shut up!
    Get off your cross, we need the wood!

    September 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • notraitors

      Sounds like all the "minorities" who cry "racism" (Look at the bright side though, at least we don't RIOT)

      September 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  7. Mahumad

    Not only in the UK are christian persecuted but also in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a few other nations

    September 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  8. palintwit

    Tebaggers could take a few lessons in dental care from the Brits.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • humtake

      Nah, it's much more fun watching the anti-Tea Party group come up with lame responses to everything.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Network

      Typical hate mongering democrats...

      September 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  9. Rational Libertarian

    I completely support the two woman who were not allowed to wear a crucifix around their necks. However, the other two seem to think religious freedom equates to being free to discriminate. A registrar should definitely be compelled to register gay civil partnerships. As for the counsellor, if they operate a private practice, I don't believe they should be under any legal compulsion to counsel anybody, although they should be ashamed of themselves.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Romans

      No they shouldn't feel ashamed. The shame lies on those who are se.xu.ally perverse. When did this get so backward? All of a sudden we shouldn't be ashamed of being se.xua.lly perverted, but those who call it what it is and refuse to condone it are the ones being condemned?? wow

      September 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Seriously, go f.uck yourself. What consenting adults do is none of your or anybody else's business.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Romans

      @RL: I'll take from your lack of rebuttal that you cannot refute the point I made. Name calling isn't an argument either. Sad

      September 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Rat Lib, It's nobody's business until they step into a counselors office and start asking why their life isn't working.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Bill Deacon' is an instance of the ad hominem fallacy.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      September 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Not sure how the law is worded across the pond. But, they should have a right to wear the cross. But, there is no religious requirement that I'm aware of that they must wear the cross in public view. Heck, they should hace a right to have a foot tall cross tattooed on their chest. But there is no rule for them to display it at work.

      As for necklaces in general – some professions do not allow them to be worn at work because of safety issues.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "Post by 'Bill Deacon' is an instance of the ad hominem fallacy." No, it's not. He made no personal attack. You need to read more closely. In fact, you seem to be attacking him ad hominem by claiming that. He said it's nobody's business until they claim discrimination.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  10. solex

    So let me get this straight –

    These people are suing for discrimination because they were dismissed from their jobs for discriminating against others?

    How does that work?

    September 4, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  11. Jake

    The bottom line is, everyone in a society should have the SAME rights. Religious beliefs should not give you special rights, nor should it mean you have fewer rights.

    If you believe her rights were infringed upon by being told not to wear a cross, would you also support her right to wear a swastika necklace at work? To many, a cross represents similar hatred, ignorance, etc, to a swastika and is equally or at least similarly offensive. If you believe she has the right to wear a cross, you must also believe that she has the right to wear a swastika or any other offensive necklace she could dream up.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The swastika has thousands of years of peaceful association.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Jake

      What is your point? You support a persons' right to wear a swastika at work and wouldn't support the employers right to ban it?

      September 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Ali

      Swastika is not necessarily a good comparison, bebause it essentially represents the work and life of Jesus Christ. If you reflect on His life, there is no violence or hate. A swastika, on the other hand, does not have any initial source that it is representing that is without violence or hate. People are not advocating those things who wear a cross and people who wear a swastika are...that is common knowledge and can be proven historically. I see what your point is, but I don't think it works in this scenario.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Jake

      Ali, that is what the cross means to you. However, to me (and many others), it represents Christianity. Christianity is an organization that supports (and relies on) childhood indoctrination, which I consider to essentially be brain-washing and a form of mental child abuse. There are many other things about Christianity that I (and many others) find to be atrocious and offensive. If an employer doesn't want symbols that many find to be offensive in their work environment (whether it be a cross or a swastika), they should have every right to ban those symbols.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Ali wrote, " If you reflect on His life, there is no violence or hate. "

      The folks murdered in the Crusades would disagree with you.

      The folks killed in the Inquizition would disagree with you.

      The women killed in Salemwould disagree with you.

      The black folks hung from trees and drug behind cars would disagree with you.

      The gay folks beaten, bashed, castigated, denigrated, and killed would disagree with you.

      The women denied healthcare would disagree with you.

      Those of us who have repeatedly been damned to hell by "good christians" will disagree with you.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "The swastika has thousands of years of peaceful association." Yep, and "GAY" means happy.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  12. Truefax

    Poor Xchans, can't worship your S&M God at the work place? AWWWWW.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  13. Stephen

    Poor little Fundamentalists, feeling all discriminated against. I have no pity for Fundamentalist "Christians," who thrive on discriminating against those of whom they disapprove (i.e. gays). I have some tissues for their issues...

    September 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      I got fired once for not being Christian enough for the owner. He carried a pistol and had a lot of colorful names for black people, too.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  14. James

    Christ said 'Love thy Nighbour' and if that neighbour is gay, love him/her too if you are truly a christian. Even murderers in jail are being allowed christian weddings and burials. 'Judge not less you be judged yoursel'.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  15. JJ

    Boo hoo, cry me a river. The Church: the largest group of discriminators the world has ever seen.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Sumguy

      OK, I'll bite....Who exactly does the "Church" discriminate against?

      September 4, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • WASP

      @sum: let's start with women, gays, atheists, people of other faiths, their own parishners that have been abused by priests. so basically everyone.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  16. Bible Clown©

    Keep in mind that this is Church of England, as big and weird as the Catholic Church, and that we basically fought to gain our independence from COE as much as from the King. They learned about tolerance from us and don't really want any. British politics are different.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  17. Damocles

    Ok, I guess the nurse might have a case if they only told her she couldn't wear her chain for safety reasons and no one else. If it's company policy for no person to wear a necklace for safety issues (a patient possibly grabbing it or getting hung up on something that could pose a risk) then she doesn't really have a case.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Jake

      Even if it were not for safety reasons, she wouldn't have a case. The cross is a very offensive symbol to many and there's no reason an employer should be forced to allow their employees to wear offensive symbols during work. Religion doesn't get a special pass just because it's religion (in reality, it often does, but it certainly shouldn't).

      September 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • notraitors

      I wonder what your reaction would be if someone said yarmulkes and habibs were offensive

      September 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Jake

      I'd be perfectly fine if an employer banned religious garb of any time. The right to religious freedom means you get the same rights as the rest of us, regardless of your religion. It doesn't mean you get special treatment because of your religion. If hats aren't allowed in the office, your religion doesn't (or shouldn't) mean you get to break that rule. If your religion is that important to you that you can't live without wearing a special hat, perhaps you should find a different occupation (like working for your religion).

      September 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Damocles

      @Jake

      Ok, we ban all symbols then, not just religious ones. I mean, gosh, I sure as hell know I'm offended by those smug pizza places blatantly placing their symbols on top of certain vehicles, forcing me to believe that their pizza is the best.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jake

      Damocles, don't be ridiculous. The point is, an employer should have the right to require employees not to wear symbols of religion in the workplace, if they so choose. I'm not saying they shouldn't be allowed to wear them in public, which would be totally different and essentially what you're implying in your pizza analogy. But, thinking about your analogy, I WOULD support the pizza company's right to require their drivers not to have offensive bumper stickers while driving with their sign on the car.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Damocles

      @Jake

      I have the right, as an employer, to ban things that pose a hazard to my workers or clients. I can ban any necklaces that may get caught up in machinery, much like some places I have worked that also didn't want you wearing certain types of clothing for fear it could get hung up and cause injury. I suppose that I have the right to disallow any employee from having a belief contrary to mine, which is kind of what you are saying, but I dare say I'd be my only employee. Banning a religious symbol based solely on that symbol is discrimination, plain and simple. I may not believe in that religion, but I respect other people's right to wear it.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "I wonder what your reaction would be if someone said yarmulkes and habibs were offensive" They offend a lot of people. Your point is . . . . ?

      September 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  18. Patrick Lewis

    The crucifix thing bothers me. Why can't you just wear the thing under your shirt? If your employer mandated neckline is so low that you can't put the cross under your shirt then there are different and bigger issues at play than your religion.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • notraitors

      and why do Jews have to wear yarmulkes and Muslim women veils?

      September 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "and why do Jews have to wear yarmulkes and Muslim women veils?" Gee, I dunno. If it was up to me, they could leave them at home. Could it be they are told to do this by voices?

      September 4, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  19. Alverant

    If your religion keeps you from doing your job, then either modify your religious beliefs or get a different job.

    Simple isn't it?

    September 4, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      Extremely so.

      Religious people, get the fvck over yourselves; you don't get special privileges. Take off your ancient torture devices that would offend any person it was ever used on and any family member or friend of any person executed on one, and get back to work.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • notraitors

      That's the same argument I make to all those who believe Catholic organizations should be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients

      September 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "That's the same argument I make to all those who believe Catholic organizations should be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients" Odd, because you seem so conservative on other issues. You tell them not to be so Catholic? You tell them to change Catholicism? I think you missed something somewhere.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  20. prophet

    we are praying for all of you including the christians that they may Believe in God Truly as Its meant to be

    September 4, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Damocles

      What makes your truth better than anyone elses truth?

      September 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Thanks, I'll pray to nobody that you change religions too.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
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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.