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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 31, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 22
No right to refuse service, human rights court says
Section One
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No right to refuse service, human rights court says

Judges rule religious beliefs don't excuse discrimination

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the appeals of two British citizens who claimed their Christian faith exempted them from having to provide services to same-sex couples.

The two cases were part of a larger ruling in which the court defined what human rights protections religious people could claim.

Lillian Ladele, a registrar for a local authority (the British equivalent of a county clerk), was disciplined by Islington Council in London for refusing to conduct civil union ceremonies, which were part of her normal duties.

Gary McFarlane was fired by the charity where he worked as a relationship counselor when he informed his employers he objected to assisting same-sex couples.

Both Ladele and McFarlane claimed their right to practice their Christian faith protected their refusal to provide services to Gay or Lesbian couples. In a hearing in January, the Court of Human Rights ruled against them, but they appealed to the court's Grand Chamber, its highest authority.

The Grand Chamber rejected their appeal on May 28, effectively closing the cases and establishing the rule that religious scruples are not a defense against charges of anti-Gay discrimination. The court ruled that both employers' actions were justified, given their obligations to prevent discrimination against people using their services.

ACTIVISTS HAIL RULING
Britain's National Secular Society welcomed the court's decision.

'Fortunately, Europe's highest court has now wisely followed numerous lower courts and rejected the applicants' attempts for religious conscience to trump equality law,' the group's executive director, Keith Porteous Wood, said.

'The U.K. has the world's most comprehensive equality laws, which already include strong protection for religious believers, and they would have been fatally compromised, particularly for LGBT people, had the grand chamber overturned any of these judgments.

'We hope that this will now draw a line under the attempts by a small coterie of Christian activists to obtain special privileges for themselves which would invariably come at the expense of other people's rights. 'The principle of equality for all, including for religious believers, is now established, and they should stop wasting the time of the courts with these vexatious cases.'

NURSE'S CRUCIFIX NIXED
Two other cases decided on May 28 involved individuals' right to wear religious paraphernalia.

The court upheld the disciplinary transfer of nurse Shirley Chaplin for wearing a crucifix at work on the grounds that all personal jewelry was prohibited by her employer, an Exeter hospital, for safety reasons.

On the other hand, the court ruled in favor of British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida, also barred from wearing a cross at work, because the airline only banned religious symbols, allowing other jewelry.

The European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959 to enforce the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. Great Britain is a signatory to the convention and is therefore bound by its provisions and the rulings of the court.

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