Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom – read judgment
The Strasbourg Court has today come up with something of a mixed message in relation to religion at work. They have voted that there is a right to manifest individual faith by wearing religious adornments but not by objecting to practices that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
All four applicants are practising Christians. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complained that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Further details of all these cases can be found in our posts here, here, and here (as well as in the “related posts” section below).
Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release
Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.
All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.
Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was moved to a desk job for wearing a crucifix at work, has lost her employment discrimination claim against the NHS.
The Employment Tribunal judgment is not available at present, but The Times reports:
John Hollow, the tribunal chairman, ruled that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital had acted reasonably in trying to reach a compromise. It had argued that the objection to the crucifix, which Mrs Chaplin, from Kenn, near Exeter, had worn for 30 years, was based on health and safety concerns about patients grabbing the necklace, not religion.
According to the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which strongly supports Ms. Chaplin’s case, the Tribunal held that Mrs Chaplin had not been indirectly discriminated against by the application of the uniform policy because she could not prove she was part of a group affected by the policy.
The Tribunal applied the reasoning in the previous case of Nadia Eweida v British Airways  EWCA Civ 1025. Ms Ewieda’s claim also involved her being banned from wearing a Christian cross at work, in that case at British Airways. The Court of Appeal made clear that in an indirect discrimination cases brought under Reg. 3(1) of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, it was necessary to show that there had to be evidence of a “group disadvantage”, i.e. that more than one person had been affected by the policy. Ms Eweida could not establish a ‘group’ and as such her case failed.
The CLC claim that “the Tribunal has now decided that a group must be more than two people as well—leaving the law in a ludicrous level of uncertainty”. Ms Chaplin has already said she plans to appeal the decision.