STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The European Court of Human Rights is set to deliver a key verdict early next week in a major case against the United Kingdom surrounding anti-Christian discrimination.
Four separate plaintiffs, whose suits are being heard together as a single case by the ECHR, all argue they were discriminated against for their faith and that U.K. courts failed to provide relief.
Two of the alleged victims were retaliated against for wearing crosses on the job. The other two faced serious repercussions for their conscientious objections to facilitating homosexual relationships.
Experts told WND that the decision, expected on January 15, will have serious implications for Europe and its future relationship with Christianity. As such, analysts, European governments, Christians, policymakers and legal experts are all monitoring developments closely.
“These cases are of a primary importance because they raise the matter of the toleration of Christians by the Western postmodern society,” explained director Grégor Puppinck with the European Center for Law and Justice, which filed a brief in the case supporting the plaintiffs.
“They are an example of the marginalization of believers in the current liberal societies,” he told WND. “If it is not stopped by human rights, the radical secularist ideology can potentially submit the Christians in Europe to the same oppression that they suffer in the Communist and the Islamic countries.”
“Indeed, Europe does not care very much about the religious persecution of Christians abroad,” Puppinck added.
The U.K. government is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is supposed to guarantee the right of freedom of conscience and religion to British subjects, as well as the right to manifest that faith.
While according to the convention those protections may be limited by law under specific circumstances, the four British Christians allegedly being discriminated against say the European court must intervene in this instance.
Two of the cases involve Christians who suffered from discrimination by their employers for wearing small crosses around their neck, even as Muslims and Sikhs, for example, have their own religious garments – headscarves and turbans – protected by law.
Shirley Chaplin, a mother who worked as a nurse for the government-run National Health Service, wore her inch-long confirmation crucifix on a necklace for some three decades without complaints. When Chaplin was ordered by the NHS to remove it, however, she refused, prompting her superiors to retaliate by barring her from her job on the ward.
“I could no longer do the job that I loved,” Chaplin said. “It made me choose between displaying my faith or doing the job that I chose to do – what I considered a vocation.”
The other victim, British Airways employee Nadia Eweida, was suspended from her job without pay for refusing to remove or conceal her own little necklace cross.
In both cases, U.K. courts refused to provide any relief. They ruled that despite laws protecting the religious attire of other faiths, wearing a cross was not a “requirement” of Christianity.
The other two plaintiffs are seeking the protection of Christian conscience rights in the workplace.
Counselor Gary McFarlane, one of the victims suing U.K. authorities at the ECHR, had a conscientious objection to providing “sex therapy” to homosexual couples based on his Christian faith.
Despite the availability of other counselors who were willing and able to provide the services, McFarlane was fired for “gross misconduct”for allegedly discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The last plaintiff is Lillian Ladele, who worked as a registrar for the London Borough of Islington. When she expressed objections, citing her faith, to conducting same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, she was disciplined and threatened with termination.
The courts eventually held that Ladele’s views on marriage were not central to Christianity and that officiating homosexual relationships did not prevent the registrar from practicing her faith.
“Those cases are examples of confrontation between Christianity and the new model of society based on the liberal consensus of amorality,”continued Puppinck, an attorney and head of the ECLJ.
“The secular agenda clashes with the social forces that do not abide by the liberal consensus on amorality,”he added. “This postmodern ideology and Christianity are based on semi-incompatible anthropologies.”
However, the issues at stake are even broader than that, Puppinck explained.
“While Christian values were the source and the paradigm of human rights, they are now at risk of being replaced by this ideology as new underlying values of human rights, and of being turned into nothing but mere subjective, individual practices, without any social legitimacy or rational claim,” he warned.
The consequences could be disastrous.
Other attorneys involved in the suit who spoke to WND also emphasized the significance of the upcoming ruling.
“The case is massively important for Christian freedom here in the United Kingdom,” said CEO Andrea Williams with Christian Legal Centre, which has been supporting the plaintiffs throughout the legal process.
“I think most people in America would be perplexed to think that our government actually challenges whether or not the wearing of a cross is a manifestation of Christian belief,” she added. “It is an extraordinary state of affairs to be in, but the government has really entrenched itself in that position.”
Authorities are saying, in effect, that wearing a cross is not a requirement of Christianity, and so, can be restricted, Williams continued.
The government is also making the argument that believing in the traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman is not a core component of the Christian faith.
“What we have found is that Christian freedom rights compete with homosexual rights, and where they’ve been tested in our domestic courts, the homosexual rights have trumped religious rights,”she told WND in an interview. “That’s a very concerning state of affairs so we’re hoping that Europe is going to address that.”
“I very much hope for victory, but I don’t know which way it will go,” Williams concluded.
Some experts who have weighed in on the case support both religious freedom and the authority of private companies to establish rules for employees.
The problem for observers like the Thomas More Legal Center in England, for example, arises when secular authorities and courts involve themselves in theology and claim that some outward displays of religion – Islamic headscarves or Sikh turbans, for instance – are protected, while Christian crosses are not.
“The important point in the cases may not be the decisions themselves but whether the ECHR endorses or disagrees with the reasoning adopted by the U.K. courts,” Thomas More Legal Center Director Neil Addison told WND.
“One of the most difficult parts of the U.K. courts’ reasoning is that they have decided that because wearing a cross is not a requirement of the Christian religion wearing a cross is not legally a ‘manifestation’ of religion,” he added. “I hope that the ECHR will firmly disagree with that logic. We shall have to wait and see.”
The ECHR is deciding the case against a backdrop of increasing hostility toward Christians, religious liberty and even free speech – not just in the U.K., but throughout much of Europe and the world.
Catholic adoption agency officials in the U.K., for example, are fighting what appears to be a losing battle against government mandates ordering them to place children with homosexuals or essentially shut down.
British pro-life activists, meanwhile, have been sentenced to jail for their work defending the unborn. And Christian street preachers are increasingly being prosecuted merely for criticizing homosexuality.
Christians and proponents of equal protection under the laws hope the Strasbourg-based European court will help put the brakes on the trends, which critics call troubling.
Other analysts, however, have warned that the ECHR itself is also a potential threat to freedom – not to mention national sovereignty.
Attorneys representing the U.K. government did not return phone calls from WND seeking comment by press time.