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Court of Appeal Recognises In Law Sunday as Christian Rest Day

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Issued by the Christian Legal Centre

News Release

For Immediate Release

05 December 2013
 
Court of Appeal Recognises In Law Sunday as Christian Rest Day
 
The Court of Appeal has today (05 DEC) upheld protection of Sundays as a day of worship and rest for Christians.  In a landmark judgment, the Court of Appeal dismissed earlier findings that Sunday observance was ‘not a core component of the Christian faith’.   The ruling comes in the case of children’s worker, Celestina Mba.
 
The Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal had ruled that since not all Christians observe Sunday, it could not be a ‘core component’ of the Christian faith and was therefore not safeguarded.
 
Had such logic prevailed, Christians could not have expected the Courts to protect them from pressure to work on Sundays.  
 
However, the Court of Appeal today rejected this reasoning saying that the faith of the individual believer should be recognised and in principle protected. Employment Tribunals must balance the religious beliefs of their employees in relation to business need.  Crucially, the Court recognised that Sunday observance is a valid and genuine expression of faith for many Christians and cannot be simply jettisoned. This principle stands in sharp contrast to other cases in recent years.
 
Ms Mba resigned from her job at a Children’s home operated by Merton Council after being put under pressure to work on Sundays.
 
An Employment Tribunal had found that the committed Christian ‘genuinely believed’ that she had made it clear at her job interview that she was unable to work on Sundays owing to her faith. An initial agreement respected her Christian faith and she didn’t work on Sundays. But after two years her employer sought to change the arrangement.
 
Disturbingly, from 2009 onwards, knowing that she would refuse, Merton Council ordered Celestina to work on Sundays and then sought to discipline her.
 
Celestina Mba, said:  “They were trying to break my faith and see if I really believed in the Lord’s Day.  Merton disrespected my Christian faith.  I said to the Court that the Council would not treat other faiths like they treat Christians.  It was like giving pork to a Muslim every meal-time and then disciplining them for not eating it!
 
“If they really needed someone to work on a Sunday, they should have recruited that person and I would have been glad to leave.  I had offered to take unpopular shifts and work anti-socials in order to protect Sundays.”
 
‘Error in law’
 
Paul Diamond, her barrister, argued that the onus was on her employer to seek reasonable accommodation for the employee and that the employers must act conscientiously. 
 
The Court of Appeal found that the earlier courts had applied the wrong test to Merton’s decision. Lord Justice Maurice Kay said “I am satisfied that there was an error of law in the decision of the ET and that it was repeated in the judgment of the EAT.”
 
However, in spite of this, the Appeal Court refused to reconsider the findings of facts made by the Employment Tribunal or to order a new hearing to apply the correct test to the facts of the case. Thus, the dismissal of Celestina was upheld.
 
In his ruling, Lord Justice Maurice Kay concluded: “After the most anxious consideration, I have come to the conclusion that, in all the circumstances of this case, and notwithstanding the legal errors to which I have referred, the decision of the ET that the imposition of the PCP was proportionate was ‘plainly and unarguably right’.”
 
‘Big Step Forward’
 
Andrea Minichiello Williams, Barrister and Director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Ms Mba, said: “We believe if the Court of Appeal had been prepared to consider the facts according to the correct test, Celestina would have won.  The onus should be on the employer to reasonably accommodate their employee. 
 
“However, this judgment is a big step forward for proper treatment of Christians and is an important victory.  At last the courts are beginning to demonstrate greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Christian identity extends beyond private belief into daily life. We pray that the tide is turning. 
 
“Celestina Mba was popular and highly respected amongst colleagues and the children for whom she cared. She loved her job and she has paid a high price for her Christian faith.”
  
ENDS
 
Notes for Editors
Ms Mba is supported by the Christian Legal Centre and represented in Court by Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre, Paul Diamond.
 
Celestina Mba is available for interview.
 
For more information / interview:
 
Andrew Marsh          07919 354 456
Peter Norris              07968 444 525

 

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