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Religious discrimination claims at Strasbourg court rejected

Date: (29 May 2013)    |    

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The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice has refused to hear an appeal by Lillian Ladele and two other Christian claimants who said they had been unfairly discriminated on grounds of religion.

The decision brings to a close the long-running dispute between Ladele and Islington Council, which the Christian registrar started after resigning from her job when the local authority refused to exempt her from performing civil partnership ceremonies.

The ruling by the Strasbourg court that Ms Ladele was not discriminated against now stands, as are the court's findings in the case of Relate counsellor Gary McFarlane, who was sacked in March 2008 for refusing to provide sex therapy to gay couples.

The third appellant was Shirley Chaplin a NHS nurse who was moved to a non-nursing job after she objected to requests by her manager, on health and safety grounds, to remove a cross she wore around her neck.

In an earlier British Airways employee case, Nadia Eweida, the claimant had argued that airline’s ban on the wearing of religious items was discriminatory, but had not appealed against the court’s original ruling on 15 January 2013.

The Strasbourg judges agreed with the employment tribunal's decision in Ms Eweida's case that although BA's objective to "project a certain corporate image" was "undoubtedly legitimate", its outright ban did not strike a fair balance between the various interests at stake.

The Christian Institute which financially backed the Ladele case said that the Grand Chamber’s decision confirmed its fears that people with Christian beliefs about marriage would be penalised in the workplace.

The institute in a statement said Ms Ladele’s request for alternative accommodation would not have had any impact on the provision of civil partnerships in Islington because there was no dearth of registrars who could meet the demand.

Meanwhile, secular campaigners welcomed the outcome, with National Secular Society executive director Keith Porteous Wood saying that the Strasbourg court was wise enough to have followed numerous lower courts and rejected the applicants' attempts for religious conscience to trump equality law.

The British Humanist Association commented in similar terms. Head of public affairs Pavan Dhaliwal said these cases had gone on too long "because of a determined lobby seeking to whip up a narrative of 'Christian persecution'".

He added that religious beliefs should be accommodated by laws and society, but not when those beliefs impinge upon the rights and freedoms of others, and that is what these cases had sought to do