Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Tale of Four Legal Cases

There's a fascinating court case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Four Christians who have claimed discrimination in their jobs applied separately but they are being heard together.

I look forward to the result of this case. The fact that we have the court to resolve these issues, setting a precedent for the future, can only help not hinder.

Nadia Eweida refused to remove a cross whilst working for British Airways
Shirley Chaplin refused to remove a cross and was moved to a desk job at Royal Devon and Exeter Trust
Gary McFarlane was dismissed from his job with Relate for refusing to counsel gay couples
Lilian Ladele was disciplined after refusing to perform Civil Partnership ceremonies during her job as a Registrar.

Nadia Eweida's lawyer said that "She was working alongside colleagues who were able to wear religious symbols and attire including the Sikh turban, the Sikh bracelet, the Muslim hijab, and the Jewish skull cap.
"It was indisputable that wearing the cross visibly did not have any detrimental effect on Miss Eweida's ability to do her job."

I can accept that argument.  But if you were to apply the principle to Shirley Chaplin's case, it is slightly different. I understand that there was a health and safety issue. The test is not comparing a cross with an item of clothing, the items of clothing referred to are generally religious requirements. There is no requirement within the Christian tradition to wear a cross. This is a display of faith not an article of faith. It is an item of jewelry.

Lets therefore compare like with like. A Kara is a steel bracelet worn by a Sikh, although its an article of faith, it is also an item of jewelry. Therefore the true question is: Would a Kara be an acceptable item to wear in a hospital? If it is yes, then we must also accept a cross. If it is no, then there is no discrimination as items of jewelry are banned irregardless of religious, cultural or sentimental value.

The other two cases are significant. They involve working for secular companies and Local Authorities and being asked to carry out duties as part of the role for which they are employed.

It is reasonable in these circumstances to expect people to put their personal beliefs to one side and get on with their jobs.

Lets put it another way. You have employed a Catholic, their belief is in the stability of the family. Would a Catholic refuse to teach a child of a single parent? Would a Catholic refuse to marry two people who were previously cohabiting. Or using birth control?

Gay people are legally allowed to take a Civil Partnership under the law. Lilian Ladele is expected to do her job as per what the law recognise as a valid Marriage or Civil Partnership. If she does not do that job, that is insubordination. That is not following a reasonable management instruction.

Whatever happens as a result of this case, companies in future will have to take a long hard look at their clothing policies and we may well see a defining moment in the struggle for gay rights.

A failure to recognise that gay people can enter a Civil Partnership under the law and that persons appointed to do so, must do so, would set the battle back years.

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