Christians ‘must choose between job or their faith’

Sep 11th, 2012 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Christians ‘must choose between job or their faith': Government lawyers claim at European court

  • Claims that four Christians were refused the right to express beliefs at work to be rejected
  • Those who disobey employers should ‘go and find another job’
  • Hard line means that Government doesn’t support right to wear a cross at work


PUBLISHED: 11:39 EST, 4 September 2012 | UPDATED: 02:33 EST, 5 September 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons earlier this year that the right to wear the cross at work was 'an absolutely vital freedom'  Read more:

Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons earlier this year that the right to wear the cross at work was 'an absolutely vital freedom'

Christians may have to sacrifice their jobs if they want to express their religion at work, government lawyers declared yesterday.

They urged human rights judges in Strasbourg to reject a landmark case brought by four Christians who said they suffered faith-based discrimination.

The state lawyers insisted workers are not entitled to wear a crucifix at work against the wishes of their employers – and if that is incompatible with their faith they ‘are free to resign’.

The hard line contrasts starkly with David Cameron telling the Commons in July that the right to wear the cross at work was ‘an absolutely vital freedom’.

He even pledged to change the law to ‘make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work.’

Last night the Government’s handling of the case was attacked by Christians for its ‘astonishing double standards’.

Government lawyers said the wearing of the crucifix was not a ‘scriptural requirement’ of Christianity, so employers had no obligation to recognise it.

But in a confrontation at the court yesterday, the Christians’ counsel said it was wrong they should have fewer rights than other faith groups just because they had a ‘tolerant’ religion.

The hearing at the European Court of Human Rights involved four test cases, two of which involve employees prevented from wearing a cross at work. Nadia Eweida’s row with British Airways led the airline to back down in 2006 and Shirley Chaplin who – after 30 years as a nurse – was told she could no longer wear her cross on duty for health and safety reasons.

 The other two cases are those of Lilian Ladele, who was sacked as a registrar by Islington council because she declined to conduct civil partnerships and Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor who lost his job in Bristol after admitting to bosses that he felt unable to give sex therapy to gays.The case comes at a time when senior Christian leaders, including the archbishops of the Church of England and the Pope, have complained that Christianity is being pushed out of public life in Britain.

Paul Diamond, for 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.’

But James Eadie QC, acting for the Government, told the judges that none of the four Christians had suffered any form of discrimination.

‘There is a difference between the professional sphere where your religious beliefs conflict with other interests and the private sphere,’ he said.

‘Everyone has the right to express their beliefs, including the right to display religious symbols, but not an absolute right or a right without limits. That does not mean that in their professional sphere anyone can manifest their religious belief in any way they choose.’ He said that under European human rights rules, people were allowed to practise their religion in a ‘generally recognised form’.

However, they could not ask to express their religion in ways which were not a ‘scriptural requirement’.

 He said: ‘Employees are free to resign if they find their employment incompatible with their religious beliefs’, adding: ‘They can obtain alternative employment in which they can reflect their religion as they wish.’In the case of Miss Eweida, 61, from Twickenham, south-west London, wearing a cross was ‘a personal expression of faith and not a response to a scriptural command’.
Mrs Chaplin, 57, he added, had been told not to wear her cross because of new health and safety rules at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

Of registrar Miss Ladele, Mr Eadie said Islington believed same-sex couples should have equal access to services and ‘this is a legitimate, even a weighty, aim for a public authority’.

For Miss Eweida, James Dingemans said that BA allowed Muslims to wear hijabs, Sikhs to wear turbans and bracelets, and Jews to wear skull caps.

Last night Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Christian Legal Centre said: ‘The Government’s double standards in their handling of these four cases has been astonishing.

‘The PM 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.’

The court is likely to take several months before making a ruling.

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