The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have signaled a major U-turn in their policy regarding the rights of religious believers with the announcement that it intends to intervene in support of four cases made by UK Christians to the European Court of Human Rights claiming religious discrimination.
The EHRC stated in a press release:
‘Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims, the Commission has said in its application to intervene in four cases at the European Court of Human Rights all involving religious discrimination in the workplace.
If given leave to intervene the Commission will argue that the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.
It will say that the courts have set the bar too high for someone to prove that they have been discriminated against because of their religion or belief; and that it is possible to accommodate expression of religion alongside the rights of people who are not religious and the needs of businesses.’
It seems likely that this major U-turn by the EHRC has been brought about by the European Court of Human Rights deciding in early June that there was merit in the four cases claiming religious discrimination , and instructing the UK government to clarify the rights of Christians with regards to the so called Equalities laws. (http://protectthepope.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=3181&action=edit)
The four cases of religious discrimination now being supported by the EHRC cover the rights of religious believers to conscientiously withdraw from offering services to homosexuals and the right to wear religious symbols at work:
- Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker who was told she could not wear her cross necklace at work.
- Lillian Ladele a marriage registrar who was disciplined for refusing to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.
- Garry McFarlane, a relationship counselor sacked by the counseling service Relate for saying he could not give sex therapy counseling to gay partners.
- Shirley Chaplain, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards after refusing to remove her cross necklace.
According to its press release the goal of the EHRC’s intervention in these four cases is to establish the legal principle of ‘reasonable accommodations’ that will help employers and others manage how they allow people to manifest their religion or belief. John Wadham, EHRC’s lawyer explained:
‘The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades. It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.’
The EHRC gives the following example of how ‘reasonable accommodation’ would work in practice:
‘ For example, if a Jew asks not to have to work on a Saturday for religious reasons, his employer could accommodate this with minimum disruption simply by changing the rota. This would potentially be reasonable and would provide a good outcome for both employee and employer.’
If this principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ were applied to the cases of Lillian Ladele and Garry McFarlane, for example, their conscientious refusal to offer services to gay couples could be easily accommodated by other members of staff dealing with homosexuals.
Protect the Pope comment: It’s under a month since Trevor Philips, head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), claimed that so called ‘Christian activists’ were exaggerating claims of persecution in the UK. So how to make sense of this unexpected U-turn?
I suspect a number of developments have forced the EHRC’s hand – the decision of the EU Human Rights Court that there was merit in Christian’s claims of religious discrimination; the recent revelations of meetings between government ministers and Church of England bishops to discuss new laws to protect religious freedoms and the government’s general suspicion of the EHRC.
What ever the reasons, Protect the Pope cautiously welcomes this unexpected good news. The reason for caution is that the gay lobby has made it clear that it will vigorously resist this change, and only time will tell how committed the EHRC are to supporting the rights of religious believers when they come under pressure from this powerful lobby.
H/T to Tim