APPEAL: Gary McFarlane. Pics:PA
TWO BLACK Christians, who claimed they were unfairly dismissed from their jobs because of their religious beliefs, are to continue their court fight.
Former relationship counsellor, Gary McFarlane and former registrar Lillian Ladele are to appeal today's (Jan 15) European Court of Human Rights ruling that their religious freedom rights were not violated by their employers.
Ladele and McFarlane said they lost their jobs because their beliefs prevented them from conducting certain services for same sex couples.
Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC),which represented them, confirmed the appeals, telling The Voice :” We’ll be going to the (court’s) Grand Chamber (and filing the appeal) within the next three months.“
The Grand Chamber could freshly consider the case. The court had initially considered whether Ladele's and McFarlane's rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights that protects 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion'.
But found that in each case, “the employer was pursuing a policy of non-discrimination against service-users, and the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation was also protected under the Convention."
It also said local courts had fairly considered the cases.
McFarlane, a sex therapist, had challenged being sacked by relationship charity Relate Avon in 2008 for saying during a training course, in response to a hypothetical scenario, that he could not counsel same sex couples because of his Biblical beliefs.
He said after the judgment:” I am amazed that the Court has ruled that my ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ was not infringed. There was no need for me to be dismissed. No one was ever denied a service. My conscience could have been accommodated and no one’s rights affected.”
He continued: “What happened to me was deeply illiberal. I simply wanted to do my job in light of my Christian identity but I was policed and punished for my thoughts, for my beliefs. In a truly tolerant society we make room for one another.
“Today’s judgment is a worrying sign not just for those who bring their Christian faith to bear on their work but for all those who hold viewpoints that differ from the reigning orthodoxy.”
In her claim, Ladele, an ex-registrar for Islington Borough Council, fought for the right to act according to her beliefs. She said she did not want to perform civil partnerships for same sex couples because doing so conflicted with her Christian beliefs.
She tried to switch rotas with colleagues but resigned when faced with being sacked by the council.
Williams said she was concerned the ruling had left it up to employers and the government to determine appropriate action when an employee’s beliefs conflict with the rights of others.
She said: “Rather than determining how this balance should be worked out. It threw the questions back to the domestic situation.
“What we have now is if there is an equality policy that does not allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation then the employer and the government can decide what that actually means and so if you are a Christian and have a conscientious objection then essentially it’s up to the employer to decide what’s proportionate.
“That’s where it gets very difficult because what’s been decided as proportionate is that your freedom to believe is your freedom to resign. We don’t think that’s any freedom at all.”
But there was triumph of sorts for Christians when the court ruled that British Airways (BA) had discriminated against former check-in staff member Nadia Eweida when she was told she could not wear a visible cross on her uniform.
“We are delighted that court has recognised the cross as a symbol and there has been victory for Nadia,” Williams said.
But Peter Kerridge, CEO of Premier Christian Radio added: “The judgement appears to change nothing for Christians, even if it does send a note of rebuttal to British courts who’d previously backed BA.
“While the Strasbourg court ruled that the airline’s policy ‘amounted to an interference with her right to manifest her religion’, it does not mean that this necessarily guarantees the right of all Christians to wear a crucifix at work.”
He added: “Indeed any employer can still insist on the removal of the cross on the grounds of health and safety or corporate image, so the fight for Christian rights continues.”
British Airways said it changed its uniform policy in 2007 to allow employees to show signs of their faith.