British Government: Christians should leave faith at the door or get a different job
Watch Peter Norris (Christian Concern) discuss Christian cases at the European Court on Sky News
Government lawyers have told the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that Christians should “leave their religious beliefs at home or move to another job” when faced with a clash between the requirements of their faith and their employment.
The comments were made in opposition to four landmark Christian freedom cases heard before the ECHR yesterday (4 September), including two brought by former nurse Shirley Chaplin and British Airways worker, Nadia Eweida, who were penalised for wearing a cross at work.
James Eadie QC, representing the Government, argued that prohibiting both individuals from wearing a visible cross “did not prevent either of them practicing religion in private” and that Christians “under difficulty” from the ban were not discriminated against if they had the choice of “resigning and moving to a different job.”
He added: “There are two aspects to this part of the argument. Firstly resigning and moving to another job and secondly there is clear and consistent jurisprudence that the person who asserts religious rights may on occasion have to take account of their position.
“There is a difference between the professional sphere where your religious freedoms necessarily abut onto and confront other interests and the private sphere. The employees concerned could indeed pursue all the generally recognised manifestations of their religion outside the work sphere.
“Employees are free to resign if they find their employment incompatible with their religious beliefs. They can obtain alternative employment in which they can reflect their religion as they wish.”
He argued further that the wearing of a cross was not a “scriptural requirement” or a “generally recognised” act of worship, such as wearing the Muslim headscarf or Sikh turban, and employers were therefore exempt from a legal obligation to accommodate the practice.
Mrs Chaplin, who was removed from front line nursing after 38 years for wanting to wear the cross, said that she felt “insulted” by the Government’s submission.
“My Christian faith isn’t something that you put on and then take off to go to work. It is with you 24/7. It is my identity, it is who I am, I cannot chop and change it,” she said.
The two other cases were brought by relationships counsellor, Gary McFarlane, who was sacked after he expressed a possible conscientious objection to giving sex therapy to homosexual couples and Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington Council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.
Paul Diamond, representing Christian Legal Centre clients Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane, said:
“These are real people, real lives, real damage suffered. There is no knowing where this will end as society moves in a secular direction. The situation in the UK is now critical.”
Campaigners have criticised PM David Cameron for failing to follow through with his recent promise to uphold the right of Christians to wear the cross at work, and to align the Government’s submissions with his own statements in support of the Christian faith.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister told church leaders at a Downing Street reception that the nation needed Christian values and that he supported the right of Christians to wear a cross at work as a manifestation of their faith.
He also told the House of Commons in July that the right to wear the cross was an "absolute freedom" and promised to amend legislation to “make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work.”
Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “Only two months ago he [Mr Cameron] championed the right of Christians to wear crosses in Parliament in response to a question by one of his MPs.
“Yet at the same time he was making that statement, his lawyers were drafting a legal submission to Strasbourg which opposes the rights of all these Christians.”
Peter Kerridge, of Premier Christian Radio, said: “This case highlights a farcical situation where a Government, which claims to support religious freedom, finds itself defending UK court decisions preventing Christians from wearing crosses.”
Andrea Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:
“David Cameron is playing a political game saying what the public want to hear. The Prime Minister said he supported the right to wear crosses in the workplace in Parliament but then he allows lawyers to say the opposite.
“He says one thing to the media and in parliament and yet shuns such statements at the most critical time; in legal submissions to the European Court of Human Rights. Gary and Shirley have received massive support from the British public who believe that the ‘equality agenda’ has led to deep injustice.
“Many believe it is unfair that hard-working public servants and employees are being discriminated against simply because of their faith. If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equality Act and other diversity legislation will be overhauled, so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their beliefs and conscience.”