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Christian asks Court of Appeal to overturn Employment Appeal Tribunal decision on Sunday working

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This week, Christian Legal Centre client, Celestina Mba has taken The Mayor and the London Borough of Merton to the Court of Appeal over their refusal to provide reasonable accommodation for her devoutly held Christian beliefs. 

Judgment in the case has been reserved until a later date.  If successful, the case could be a benchmark for thousands of Christians in England now ‘forced’ to work on Sundays if they are to keep their jobs.

European Court

Using a recent European Court Judgment which stated that British Airways was wrong not to allow a worker to wear a Cross (even though not all Christians wear such items), and that employers should offer reasonable accommodation to workers’ spiritual beliefs, Celestina Mba claimed that her employer failed to accommodate her wish to be able to have a day of rest on the Sabbath, one of the 10 vital Commandments Christians were told by Jesus to follow.

Celestina, a Christian children’s worker, had been told by an Employment Appeal Tribunal that her employer was justified in refusing to permit her not to work on a Sunday.  The judge said that Sunday was not a ‘core’ component of the Christian faith because some Christians would be prepared to work on a Sunday; and therefore Christians as a whole do not need Sunday protected.

Agreement

However, before Celestina began working for Brightwell Children’s Home in London, she thought that she had agreed with her employers that she would not work on Sundays in accordance with her Christian beliefs.  The Tribunal expressly found that Ms Mba 'genuinely believed' that her religious position would be accommodated in full when she accepted the position in 2007. However, the Council changed the arrangement soon after she started the job, saying that the arrangement was temporary, forcing her to choose between her job and her Christian observance.

Celestina offered to work for less pay, or to work night or Saturday shifts, something unpopular with other employees, but the Council chose not to provide reasonable accommodation for her beliefs and forced Ms Mba to resign.

This week (23 October), at the Court of Appeal in London, Ms Mba’s legal advisers used a recent ruling from the European Court of Human Rights which declared that it was not right in law for an employer to claim exemption from Human Rights on the ground that not all adherents to a faith carry out a certain practice (ie. working on Sundays), but that all employers should provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ for the deeply held spiritual beliefs of all employers.  If successful, the case will be seen as a legal benchmark and could radically change the rights of Christians to have their devoutly held beliefs recognised by their employers.

Trend

Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and founder of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting the Christian, said: “Celestina’s case continues a trend where we are seeing secular Courts ruling on ‘core’ components of Christian practice. 

“However, the Courts have acted to protect the Kara bracelet, Afro ‘Cornrow haircuts’, the wearing of the Hijab and a Muslim’s right to fast, but have refused to grant protection to the Cross or the Christian Sunday.

“Celestina’s offer to work for less and work unpopular shifts, even when others had offered to work in her place on Sundays, was clearly a reasonable accommodation that her employer could, and should, have provided.”

 Ms Mba was represented in the Court of Appeal by the leading Human Rights barrister, Paul Diamond.

Related stories:

Court says Christians don’t keep Sunday special for it to be protected

Christian children’s worker who was forced to resign loses case

 

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