European Court of Human Rights Expected to Issue Ruling on Christian Discrimination Cases

On Tuesday 15 January 2013, the European Court of Human Rights will issue its ruling in the four cases of Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane against the United-Kingdom, concerning the right of Christians not to be discriminated against at work because of their religion (cases nos. 48420/10, 59842/10, 51671/10 and 36516/10).

In those four cases, Christian employees from various denominations have been sanctioned by their employer, and even lost their job, for respecting the commitments of their faith and conscience: wearing a small cross on a chain around their neck (cases of Eweida and Chaplin), and refusing to register same-sex partnership (case of Ms Ladele).  For the case of McFarlane, a marriage counsellor, he was dismissed after sharing with his superiors his moral doubts as to his personal ability to counsel same-sex couples. (Summary of the facts of the cases below)

The Court held a hearing in those cases on 4 September 2012. During this hearing, while the four applicants asked for respect for their freedom of religion and conscience and for the right not to be discriminated against because of their faith, the responding Government replied with the ultimate argument that their freedom of religion is respected because they are free to resign and to practice their religion in private. Such an argument is unrealistic because the applicants were not “free” to resign, as they have in fact already been fired. More deeply, this argument is a clear denial of the social dimension of religion and a manifestation of the liberticidal trend to transform freedom of religion into a mere freedom of worship (a freedom to have and practice a religion in private, behind “closed doors”). The extent of religion is limited to worship. This relapse of religious freedom to a freedom to worship is a step back to the level of freedom afforded to religious minorities in countries, such as Islamic and Communist countries, where Christians are only permitted to worship in private and where anti-Christian propaganda is free in public. Such “freedom of worship” do not allow people to behave publicly differently because of their religion and according to their conscience.

In fact, freedom of worship is just one component of the freedom of religion which, more broadly, provides that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, e