BBC News 4 Sep 2012
Four Christians who lost separate employment tribunals relating to their religious beliefs are taking their legal fight to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In a landmark case, the group will argue that they suffered discrimination in the workplace because of their faith. Their stories are all different, but centre around whether their religious principles have a place in the modern British workplace.
Marriage registrar Lillian Ladele worked for Islington Borough Council in London. When civil partnerships were legalised in 2004, Miss Ladele refused to conduct them, saying it was against her religious beliefs. Miss Ladele claimed Islington Council had discriminated against her. In December 2007, the local authority changed the rules governing their registrar’s working conditions. Miss Ladele went from effectively working on a freelance basis, which allowed her to swap civil partnership ceremonies with colleagues, to a system which granted her far less flexibility. Miss Ladele argued she was being forced by the north London council to chose between her religious beliefs and her job. She claimed she was shunned and accused of being homophobic for refusing to carry out the ceremonies. In July 2008, an employment tribunal ruled in Miss Ladele’s favour, agreeing that she had been harassed. At the time, Miss Ladele hailed the decision as a “victory for religious liberty”. But in December that year the Employment Appeal Tribunal reversed the ruling, and it was upheld for a second time by the Court of Appeal in 2009. The Supreme Court refused to allow Miss Ladele to appeal again, prompting her decision to consider taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Relationship councillor Mr McFarlane was sacked by his employer, Relate Avon, after saying he objected to giving sex therapy guidance to same-sex couples. Employed by the national counselling service in May 2003, the former church elder from Bristol claimed his religious beliefs meant he could not promote gay sex. Mr McFarlane’s Christian principles meant he did not want to give sex counselling to homosexual couples. The 51-year-old was suspended in October 2007 after meeting with his manager to discuss the issue, and was eventually dismissed for gross misconduct in March 2008. Charity Christian Concern said Mr McFarlane “never refused” to provide sex therapy to a “live” homosexual couple, but had told his managers if such a situation arose he would discuss it with them. His case was dismissed by both an internal appeal at Relate and an Employment Tribunal. In November 2009, the Employment Appeal Tribunal again refused to uphold Mr McFarlane’s claims of unfair dismissal. His application to appeal the tribunal’s decision was turned down twice by the Court of Appeal in April 2010. Speaking after the ruling, Mr McFarlane said: “There should be allowances taken into account whereby individuals like me can actually avoid having to contradict their very strongly-held Christian principles.”