UK High Court judges Sabbath observance is not an important Christian belief

The UK High Court has judged that Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sunday, adding Sabbath observance to marriage and the display of Christian symbols to the list of beliefs that UK judges have declared are not important Christian beliefs. The UK legal system is applying its own ‘test of faith’ to determine if Christian beliefs have legal protection.

The Daily Telegraph reports:

The judgment was issued by Mr Justice Langstaff as he ruled on an appeal brought by a Christian woman who was sacked after she refused to work on Sundays at a care home.

Celestina Mba claimed the council she worked for pressured her to work on Sundays and threatened her with disciplinary measures – even though other workers were willing to take the shifts.

The 57 year-old, from Streatham Vale, south London, worships every Sunday at her Baptist church, where she is also part of the ministry team offering pastoral care and support to the congregation.

She said that when she took the position in 2007 providing respite care for children with severe learning difficulties at the Brightwell children’s home in Morden, south-west London managers initially agreed to accommodate the requirements of her faith.

But within a few months of starting the job, Miss Mba said managers began pressuring her to work on Sundays.

She found herself repeatedly allocated Sunday shifts and threatened with disciplinary measures unless she agreed to compromise her church commitments, meaning she had no alternative but to resign from the job she loved, she said.

The care worker launched an unsuccessful legal claim in February this year and this month lost her appeal in the High Court.

Mr Justice Langstaff, who as president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal is the most senior judge in England and Wales in this type of case, upheld the lower tribunal’s ruling which said it was relevant that other Christians did not ask for Sundays off.

The fact that some Christians were prepared to work on Sundays meant it was not protected, the court said.

The senior judge said that a rule imposed by an employer which affected nearly every Christian would have a greater discriminatory impact than one which only affected a few.

There was evidence that many Christians work on Sundays and this was relevant in “weighing” the impact of the employers’ rule, and the earlier decision did not involve an error of law, he added.

Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, said of the latest ruling: “The court in this case created an unrealistic test which means that people like Celestina who wish to respect the Sabbath will be forced out of the workplace.

“The court seems to be requiring a significant number of adherents of the Christian faith to observe a particular practice before the court is willing to accept and protect the practice.

“In the past year we have seen mandatory tests of faith in relation to the wearing of crosses by Christians, belief about marriage between a man and a woman and now observing the Sabbath when in all cases reasonable accommodation could have been made.

“Such tests do not appear to be similarly applied to Muslims who are permitted to wear the hijab and observe prayers and Sikhs with the kara bracelet.”

Protect the Pope comment: This latest ruling means that the Catholic obligation to participate in the celebration of the Mass on Sunday is no longer protected by law. Employers can now insist that Catholic employees work Saturday and Sunday, if they so wish. The freedom of Catholics to fulfill their religious obligation is now totally at the discretion of their employer. Another fundamental religious freedom has been removed from us. Yet again UK law is presuming to overturn the law of the Church. What will be the response of our bishops to this unjust legal ruling?

“Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church” (CIC, can. 1246 § 1). “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (CIC, can. 1247).

The Catechism states:

The Sunday obligation

2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.”117 “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”118

2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

12 comments to UK High Court judges Sabbath observance is not an important Christian belief

  • ms Catholic state

    Another reason why Catholics should be running care homes and hospitals….so Catholic health workers can carry out their duty to the sick and weak in a uniquely Catholic environment (the best in other words).

    Also what happened to the Bishop’s suggestion that Catholics say the Angelus every first Friday. Personally I think they should now command every Catholic to say the Angelus every day at noon…if it doesn’t interfere with their duties at that moment. Let the authorities try to stop that!

  • John Dare

    Its important to understand that a higher court can’t overturn a lower courts ruling, unless (main issue) it finds that the lower court made an error in law.

  • Andrzej

    But Deacon Nick, this isn’t the best example. Putting aside the court’s ruling, there are some jobs that just need to be done on Sunday – an this would include “respite care for children with severe learning difficulties at the Brightwell children’s home in Morden”.

    Some staff need to present at such places – also on Sundays. Perhaps other workers of this children’s home also wanted to go to Church and spend time with their families. Someone just needs to stay – hopefully on a rotating and voluntary basis.

    I would agree that no one should be forced to work on Sundays and this should be a protected right. But I think it was short-sighted and selfish of Ms Mba to accept this job hoping that others would sacrifice their Sabbath for her.

  • My comment is not about the central issue here but about the Sabbath. At least for Catholics, Sunday is not the Sabbath. ‘Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath’.This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    The day of the Resurrection: the new creation

    2174 Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the sabbath,it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday:

    We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.

    Sunday – fulfillment of the sabbath

    2175 Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ.

    As an outsider I see it as pointless that England has an established church if judges contemptuously ignore that legal reality. Apart from insulting God, is not Mr Justice Langstaff insulting his monarch who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England?

  • Lynda

    This is clearly an erroneous ruling. Catholics cannot practise the Faith unless they observe the Sabbath.

  • Simon

    Saturday vigil mass is precisely held because some people work or do other things on a Sunday. You have read the press report assuming that it directly applies to you. Reasonable provision is made by the Catholic Church for the circumstances of the case brought. That means it would not be possible to argue one should not be requested to work on a Sunday if a Saturday vigil mass was locally available. And of course you characteristically forget that the vast majority of employers are very reasonable people but that signals a rather different understanding of rationality than you are wiling to accept.

  • Robin Leslie

    Well now we have a ‘devout’ Catholic is in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions, who attends Mass every Sunday and who has put in place a ruling that the unemployed take any job they are offered on pain of losing their unemployment benefit and evicting poor households from their homes in inner London due to a housing benefit cap.
    Looks like the ‘class war’ is not only alive and kicking in UK Plc but rampant among middle-class Catholics, precisely the Catholics who are likely to favour the modernisation and liberalisation of the Church. I would recommend all Catholics to read Herbert McCabe’s book
    God Matters, especially Chapter 15 ‘The Class Struggle and Christian Love’ which exposes the inner contradictions of bourgeois Christianity!

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Without knowing the full facts of this case it is difficult to comment. However I would have thought that if other staff were happy to cover for Mrs Mba on Sundays then as a matter of common decency her employers should have agreed to her request. Why did the case end up in court?

  • Don

    If the lady did not want to work on sunday at a care home I would like to see who she expects to take care of her when she comes to a sunday in the care home she is staying at and she needs her meds but the workers are all at home. I just dont understand her reasoning.

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