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European Court judgements send wrong message

15th January 2013

Today’s judgements on religious liberty have sent out the wrong message about the position of religious faith in Britain today, Theos, the religion and society think tank, has said.

Of the four discrimination cases, only one, Nadeia Eweida, was ruled for the Christian in question. The other three – nurse, Shirley Chaplin; marriage counsellor, Gary McFarlane; and registrar Lillian Ladele – all lost.

Although each case has mitigating details, and there was a dissenting judgement in Ladele’s case, the general impression is that the default position is a narrow interpretation of the right to manifest religion.

Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos, said:

"Disputes around freedom of religious belief and manifestation are an inevitable part of living in a free and diverse society. However, it seems as if the courts are erring on the side of limiting rather than accommodating religious freedom.

One does not have to agree with the beliefs of the applicants to support their cases. It should not be beyond the wit of an employer to work with strongly-held religious commitments, rather than dismiss them. However, what we are increasingly seeing is an unwillingness to accommodate them reasonably.

These individual cases are complex, but the judgements matter because they will influence a larger conversation about the place of Christianity in the UK. Religious freedom has historically been foundational in Britain, going back in some ways more than 300 years. It the basis on which other freedoms, such as speech and conscience, were slowly built. Although it is often uncomfortable, it is a well-spring for democratic health. The more we chip away at the right to live and act according to our deepest commitments, the more we chip away at the foundation of all our freedoms.”

Notes

1. Theos is a religion and society think tank which offers research and commentary on issues of faith and belief. It was launched in November 2006 with the support of the then Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster.

2. Sixteen legal experts discuss the issues behind these cases in the Theos publication Religion and Law. Click here to read.

3. The issue of religious freedom will be debated at a parliamentary event on 6th February in the Theos debate Courts and Conscience. Click here for more details.

4. Contact details: Press enquiries should be directed to the Theos Press Office
77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ
E: press@theosthinktank.co.uk
T: 0207 828 7777
M: 07914 723 839 or 07875 343 554