Step by step, with each successive loss at whichever court of appeal, the freedom of Christians to act in accordance with their faith and their conscience is being steadily but systematically eradicated within the United Kingdom. The latest demonstration of this destruction can be seen in the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in four separate cases of British Christians; each sanctioned differently by their employer in a way which would have been unacceptable had they been a follower of any other religion.
The cases of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin concerned the freedom to wear a crucifix in the workplace. In one pyrrhic victory, the Court deemed that British Airways did indeed infringe Mrs Ewieda’s rights. Conversely and contradictory, Mrs Chaplin’s choice to wear a crucifix at work was denied on health and safety grounds, despite evidence given that exceptions had been made for employees of other faiths, and no risk to safety could be proven.
Freedom of conscience was dealt two blows in the cases of Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane. Mrs Ladele, a civil registrar for ten years, saw the conditions of her work change dramatically when homosexual civil partnerships were made legal in 2004. Islington Borough Council sought to make an example of her, and subsequently dismissed her from work. Similarly, Mr McFarlane had gone to his superiors to express his doubt (not refusal) of his own ability to provide therapy for same-sex couples. Rather than seeking to accommodate Mr McFarlane, his employers dismissed him for gross misconduct.
In both these cases, the practice of reasonable accommodation was entirely possible. Accommodations within the workplace are commonplace for a wide-ranging variety of reasons and indeed other councils and employers have shown the broad-minded maturity to do so. Despite this, the Court ruled that dismissal was a ‘proportionate’ measure for failing to adhere to what it called, ironically, equality and diversity policies.
In response to the court rulings, Founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Benjamin Harnwell, spoke of the far-reaching consequences:
“The cases of Mrs Chaplin, Mrs Ladele and Mr McFarlane exacerbate what is already becoming common practice throughout Britain, an enforced curtailment of the liberty of Christians to act according to their own religious conscience in the workplace. This slow creep towards ‘liberticide’ has risen to the point where people of specifically Christian faith are not merely treated with hostility but now met with instant dismissal.
“There is now a disturbing paradox being exercised in Britain; that in the name of plurality and tolerance, the previous custom of accommodation is being replaced with a legal requirement to adhere to a monopolistic secular conformity. The precedents set here will surely open the doors to further attacks against the Christian conscience within the workplace, namely the freedom of pro-life medical practitioners to refuse to perform abortions. We must now hope and pray that if these cases are taken to appeal before the Grand Chamber, those entrusted with the responsibility to defend religious freedom, enshrined by Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, will not make a further mockery of the human dignity that God has entrusted them to protect.”