A man and a woman who refused to do their jobs for gay people are among four British Christians taking employment tribunal appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today (4 September).
The two, who said their religious beliefs meant they shouldn’t be asked to provide services for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, are joined by two more people who fought to be able to wear a crucifix symbol at work.
Lillian Ladele was a marriage registrar for Islington Borough Council in north London who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples when they were legalized in 2004.
But in 2007 bosses changed the way she was employed, so she could no longer choose to avoid civil partnerships.
She argued Islington bosses were forcing her to chose between her religious beliefs and her job. She won her case in 2008 but an Employment Tribunal Appeal hearing reversed that decision in December of that year and that new ruling in the council’s favor was upheld in 2009 by the Court of Appeal.
Gary McFarlane's worked for relationship counseling organization Relate at a time when it was making big strides to include lesbian and gay couples as well as heterosexuals.
He was a sex therapist – which Relate describes as ‘unshockable’ counselors dedicated to people improving their sex lives to help them improve their relationship.
But as a Christian, McFarlane said he wouldn’t be prepared to work with gay and lesbian couples in that way if the subject ever came up.
He was suspended in October 2007 and eventually dismissed for gross misconduct in March 2008.
His case was turned down by an internal appeal board within Relate, then by an Employment Tribunal. An appeal also failed and in 2010 the Court of Appeal twice refused to allow him further appeals.
They will be joined at the ECHR by two other Christians, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin who both lost their fights to wear their crucifixes at work.
Robert Pigott, religious affairs correspondent for BBC News, predicted the rulings in the cases would be significant.
He said: ‘By making this as an oral hearing, the European Court is clearly troubled by it and taking it very seriously.
‘Attention will focus especially on the ruling in the cases where Christians claim they faced discrimination by being forced to provide services to gay people despite their belief that homosexual practice was wrong.
‘It seems likely that, whatever is decided in Strasbourg, Christians will soon be able to wear crosses at work, but the judgment on their beliefs about homosexuality will be far-reaching.’