UK Equalities Commission makes surprise U-turn over religious rights

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. (

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


8 comments to UK Equalities Commission makes surprise U-turn over religious rights

  • Tim

    Reasonable accomodation seems perfectly fine to me (and happens already throughout the country all the time without the commission’s involvement- I know of firms who let their jewish staff home early on winter Fridays, just as we bent the holiday rules of our firm to let a mad-cyclist member of staff participate in the Tour de France. It is all about being sensitive and reasonable on both sides and should be within the capabilities of any decent manager already.

    I worry more generally about making too many legal rights in this area though (and I am criticising activists on all sides of the argument here)- the people who will benefit the most will be the employment lawyers.

    • Deacon Nick

      Tim, I don’t like too many laws being imposed, because we’re over regulated as it is. However, with regret I think there is a need for the principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to be established in law for those employers, especially in the public sector, who are neither reasonable or accommodating, such as the NHS Trust who disciplined and bullied a health worker for holding a private conversation about evidence of adverse effects of abortion on women.

      • Tim

        I see your point, but would add one more:

        1, The Governemnt is supposed to be in control of the NHS and the public sector. If it wants the NHS to treat Christians better then it ought to be able to simply do that. Passing a law that will allow it to be sued when it fails to do what another part of the Governemnt wants it to do is a very round about (and expensive) way to do it. If the need for new laws is mainly in the public sector as you suggest then the problem is not the absence of laws but a poorly controlled public sector.

  • Tim

    With respect to the private sector I would add the following point which is that people often forget that discriminating against your staff and customers is usually bad for business. I am an atheist and secularist who is responsible for managing about 40 people. My own personal thoughts on religion (roughly summarised in my belief that it is silly and can be dangerous) are kept to myself at work and do not influence how I treat my staff, some of whome are religious. Sensible manifestations of belief whether that be wearing crosses, headscalfs the bindi or whatever are perfectly allowed and reasonable accomodation would and on occassion has been made for people’s beliefs as well as other aspects of their lives. I am slightly insulted by the implication that they need legal protection. If I started descriminating against my Christain staff I would loose some of my best workers as well as some of my good friends. Why on earth would I choose to do that?

    Most managers already know how to behave and if they don’t there are already financial consequences.

    • Deacon Nick

      The problem with the public sector is that they usually have a monopoly over delivery of services they offer, such as NHS trusts, social services or the police. So they can afford to publicly and loudly discriminate, say, against Christians for their beliefs. The real threat we’re talking about here is discrimination about ideas, ideas that are judged by the PC ‘police’ as unacceptable by those in power to instigate disciplinary procedures and sackings.

  • [...] includes the following acute comment by Nick Donnelly: It’s under a month since Trevor Philips, head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission [...]

  • Karla

    £60 million a year is going to go this comission. There really is no such thing as Equality legilisation because a ruling will always go a way that somebody else doesn’t agree with, so it doesn’t make sense.

  • [...] a few Christian responses so far: Protect the Pope – Significant Truths – The Christian Institute – Life Site [...]

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