These cases are very significant for the future of Christian freedoms in the UK and across the Council of Europe area (c. 800 million citizens). In a press release, Christian Concern (defending these cases) asks people to pray that the Judges refer the cases to the Grand Chamber.
Source: Christian Concern)
In January, the UK was found to be in violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Nadia Eweida, the British Airways worker who had been barred from wearing her cross. It was the first time that the UK had ever been found to have violated Article 9 which guarantees 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion'.
In the same judgment, the Court critiqued the UK's approach to the religious freedom of three other Christians - Nurse Shirley Chaplin, relationships counsellor, Gary McFarlane and civil registrar Lillian Ladele. The UK Government had claimed that the wearing of the cross and Christian beliefs about marriage and sexual ethics were not protected expressions of Christian faith. The Government had also claimed that since the individuals were free to resign and find employment elsewhere, their religious freedom was automatically protected.
The Court disputed these assertions. In spite of this, however, the Court ruled that any restriction on the freedom of Mrs Chaplin, Mr McFarlane and Ms Ladele was within the 'margin of appreciation' (discretion) that it affords to Member States.
In April, an application was made for the cases to be heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court. This is the highest and final Court of appeal on matters related to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Please pray that the panel of judges meeting tomorrow refers these cases to the Grand Chamber.
Shirley Chaplin had worn her confirmation cross on a small chain around her neck, without incident, throughout her nearly thirty years in frontline nursing. Then, as part of a new uniform policy, she was told to remove it despite indicating that it was a symbol of her faith and the fact that allowances were made for the religious dress of others. She was moved from frontline nursing to clerical duties, a role that ceased to exist six months later. She also lost the opportunity to pursue locum nursing. The Government claimed that there were over-riding health and safety reasons for the sudden ban. However, as hospital documentation demonstrates, 'health and safety' concerns were only raised later.
Gary McFarlane an experienced relationships counsellor, indicated during a training course that on account of his Christian faith he might have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to a same-sex couple if the situation ever arose. He was dismissed for gross misconduct for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, despite the fact that the issue involved a hypothetical scenario and the fact that there was no risk of anyone being denied a service or of any undue burden being placed on his employer (since there were other counsellors who could have provided the service). Gary's conscience could have been easily accommodated but he was effectively a victim of 'thought policing', being penalised for 'thought crime'.
Click here for more information about the verdict of the European Court for Human Rights (as written previously on my blog)
Click for more information from the website of Christian Concern
Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane are supported by the Christian Legal Centre and represented by Paul Diamond. The judges will also rule on the case of Lillian Lad