European Court Rejects Religious 'Right to Discriminate'

The European court of human rights on Tuesday rejected an appeal brought by three British Christians, two of whom say they were punished at work for not wanting to serve same-sex couples.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

May 29 2013 5:01 PM ET

The European court of human rights flatly rejected an appeal Tuesday requested by a trio of British Christians, two of whom were hoping to receive a religious exemption from the county's nondiscrimination law because they did not want to counsel or serve same-sex couples.

The case was brought by three Christians who each allege they were unfairly disciplined by their respective employers for their beliefs, according to London's Guardian. On Tuesday, judges in the court's grand chamber, its highest court and the last chance for appeals, rejected the requests, effectively ending the legal challenge. 

The international court in Strasbourg, France, first rejected the appeals of Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane, and Lillian Ladele in January, reports the Guardian, as part of the same ruling that concluded a British Airways check-in attendant's rights had been violated when she was barred from wearing a necklace bearing a cross at work. 

That victory encouraged Chaplin, who claims she was moved to an administrative position after she refused to take off a crucifix necklace. But in Chaplin's case, the court ruled that because the 57-year-old is a geriatrics nurse, the jewelry could reasonably interfere with the safety and hygiene of both patients and staff. 

Ladele, 52, was an authority registrar in London who was disciplined for refusing to perform civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples. McFarlane, 51, was a relationship counselor in Bristol who was dismissed by the charity Relate when he said he might object to assisting gay and lesbian couples. 

The executive director of Britain's National Secular Society lauded Tuesday's ruling as affirming the United Kingdom's stringent antidiscrimination laws, noting that the court rejected the argument that "religious freedom" trumps individual liberty and equality.

"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," Keith Porteous Wood told the Guardian.

Tags: Religion

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