Secularism on trial

The European Court of Human Rights is hearing the cases of four British Christians who claim they were fired because of discrimination against their religious beliefs. You remember them. The two Christian women who insisted on wearing necklaces with a cross attached when their jobs required no jewelry. (Here’s a thing, which I hadn’t noticed before. Two women. Necklaces. This doesn’t come up with men. So in fact…it really is a matter of jewelry, not religious belief. It’s a matter of Gender Custom that women can wear necklaces and men can’t, so somehow it becomes a “religious obligation” for women to wear a necklace with a cross attached, while that’s not a “religious obligation” for men. That doesn’t make any sense. You might as well say it’s a “religious obligation” for women to wear four-inch heels with a cross stiched into the left one.) The relationship counsellor who said he had a conscientious objection to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples. The registrar who refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

[A] lawyer for the government, James Eadie, said employees’ rights have to be limited in order to protect the rights of others.

He said: “These four linked cases at their core raise questions about the rights, and the limits to the rights, of employees to force their employers to alter employment conditions, so as to accommodate the employees’ religious practices.

“My submission will be that the court’s jurisprudence is clear and consistent, it is to this effect the convention protects individuals’ rights to manifest their religion outside their professional sphere.

“However, that does not mean that in the context of his or her employment an individual can insist on being able to manifest their beliefs in any way they choose. Other rights, other interests are in play and are to be respected.”

It seems bizarre that all four are being heard as one case, when the first two seem both so different from and so much less important than the second two. First two: dangly jewelry is prohibited for good reasons, find some other way to wear a cross. Second two: if you don’t want to do your job, then find another job. Amateur judging, at your service.



  1. oolon says

    All failed miserably in the UK courts and at employment tribunal… Employment tribunal fail is especially relevant given there is often a lower standard of evidence required and employers can fall foul by just not following procedure correctly.

    I really cannot see them winning – I suppose their aim is to get the Christians are persecuted meme out there. Given a lot of the right in the UK hate Europe they don’t have a lot to lose – win and it will be ignored that the European court helped them – lose and it is those horrible Eurocrats trampling on Englands sacred right to be a Christian nation. Of course if it was the Muslims complaining they’d have won!! Etc… More hatred and division sown, champagne all round!

  2. Brian says

    But Ophelia, that’s descrimination! Reminds me of an argument I had with some guy, always a guy, who said it was discriminatory to expect doctors who were against abortion for religious reasons to have to inform interested women on what services were available. Not to have to do perform an abortion, mind, or make arrangements, but just refer to another doctor, clinic, or point to pamphlets. The doctors in hypothetical question were supping from the secular teat, but it was argued that they should be allowed to disregard information of secular or state provided options, lest their particular beliefs and selves be discriminated against. So, sorry, jangly jewelry and half-arsed psychology are right out, unless it’s someone’s religious belief, then don’t mention the war, you desriminating, secular, monster!
    I guess being in private employ would make a difference?

  3. says

    I don’t really see how private employment would be different. You’re basically entering into a contract with your employer to work for the employer; that is, you offer the services your employer wants you to offer.

    If your employer wants you to offer sex counselling to gay couples as well as straight, it seems to me your only option is to not work for your employer. This is not the same as, say, your employer requiring you to attend and support gay rights rallies or attend his church. If the services your employer provides go against your conscience, you need to walk away.

    This is especially true of the government official. When you are carrying out a government function, you are not a citizen. You are not an individual. You are a facet of your government and must act completely in accordance with your government’s laws and rules. You don’t get to pick and choose. All you get to do is walk away if your conscience cannot stand it.

    As for the jewelry, my thought is that the “right” to wear bling is outweighed by your coworker’s right to a safe and catastrophe free working environment.

  4. Aratina Cage says

    “I’m going to force you to let me usurp government power to discriminate against you and if you don’t let me then you’re discriminating against me!!!!”

    Uhm… that is kind of the point. You are being stopped because you are misusing government power.

  5. chrisj says

    First two: dangly jewelry is prohibited for good reasons, find some other way to wear a cross.

    This is actually a major hint at the massive dishonesty going on here: both women were told by their employers that they would be allowed to wear cross lapel-pins if they wanted to. Yet they keep arguing that they’re being discriminated against because they’re christians.

    and then their lawyer (in the linked BBC article) said:
    “It was indisputable that wearing the cross visibly did not have any detrimental effect on Miss Eweida’s ability to do her job.”

    Since no-one is disputing it – and she was explicitly offered several alternatives to her chosen one – that hardly seems relevant. I suspect (and certainly hope) they’ll get stomped on by the european court the same way they have all the way up the chain to date.

  6. Ray Moscow says

    Some bishop was on Radio 4 this morning claiming that these were cases of religious persecution instead of people refusing to do their jobs for no good reason.

  7. sambarge says

    chrisj @ #6

    Exactly! Both of these women were allowed to wear crosses to work.

    The nurse was asked to tuck the cross in her shirt or wear a pin, for health and safety reasons (dangling jewelery not being the best hygiene option in a hospital, also gives disoriented/violent patients something to grip/strangle with). She refused – to meet her employer’s health and safety requirements.

    The British Airways ticket agent wasn’t allowed to wear non-BA jewelery as part of her uniform and refused a transfer to a position that would allow her to wear the cross (ie. out of uniform). The company has since changed its policy in response to her complaint!

    Really, the misinformation around these cases just pisses me off.

  8. Catwhisperer says

    I have a job where for safety reasons, we have a “minimal jewellery” rule – we allow wedding rings, watches, and necklaces as long as they’re worn inside clothing where they can’t get dangle and get caught on stuff.

    If you’re wearing a shirt / blouse (as seems likely in the BA scenario) nobody even knows you’re wearing a necklace. If you’re a nurse, you may need a longish necklace to be able to safely tuck it away. Either way, if you do that, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a religious symbol or a sign that says “fuck you”, I’d imagine any reasonable employer would let it go.

    Of course, if you’re going to insist on wearing your cross outside of your uniform just to make a point, it might as well be a “fuck you” sign…

  9. Rrr says

    Would not that be stigmatizing, as in puncturing of inner tube? And repeatedly, no less. Net loss. No leaky hose not belong in nursing.

  10. Black Antelope says

    @6 and 8

    Exactly^2. All 4 cases are such no-brainers. Where are they getting the money for all the stupid appeals from?

    Especially the 4th case. You’re part of the government. Do your damn job.

    The therapist seems to be a case of “I find gay sex icky”, since I’ve seem them refereed to as a sex consular. I’d have some sympathy if they were self-employed, but they work for a company, so either do your job or leave.

    The first two “lets wilfully disregard rules that exist for our own safety and the safety of others, even though we’ve been offered alternatives, because privilege”

  11. Atticus_of_Amber says

    Hearing the four together actually makes sense as it could allow the judges to explore teh relevant principles. Case A (where there is a health and safety reason) is ok for these reasons; Case B is impermissable for these reasons; etc…

  12. says

    This is why it drives me nuts when I hear my religious conservative family whine about how gay people (or women, or people of color, depending on the conversation) want “special rights”. No, a gay couple that wants to get married, or a lesbian teacher that just wants to be able to keep her job and have a picture of her family on her desk, they just want to be treated like everyone else. No special rights. But someone who decides that, well, yeah, he has a job description and everyone has to follow the same rules, but he’s just such a special religious snowflake that the rules shouldn’t apply to him and he doesn’t have to fulfill the same responsibilities as everyone else? SPECIAL RIGHTS, EXHIBIT A.

    Whenever I’ve heard of a true court case (thinking in the US, but this just proves my point) where someone is seeking actual special rights, it has been, without fail, religiously motivated. And quite often, though not always, they’re asking for the special right to hate and discriminate.

  13. jose says

    I think it’s funny she can’t tuck the necklace inside her shirt. No, I am obligated by my religion to show off my necklace! Doesn’t that contradict Matthew 6?

  14. Rebekah says

    Can you really blame these women for trying given the absurd allowances for other religions and the general postmodern mindset that your religion does/demands whatever you say it does?

    I recall the Americans gushing about “religious liberty” when a Muslim firefighter won the right to break the rules and have a beard (which creates a risk of a gas mask not sealing properly). There is a valid, mortal concern and religion trumps commons sense.

    Again nothing really says a Muslim woman cannot show her face for official purpose like her driving licence, yet once again there are forces arguing for exactly that exemption from civil norms.

  15. ismenia says

    @ jose (16)

    Apparently asking someone to keep the cross under their shirt is asking them to hide their faith. One of the reasons these cases fail is that Christians are not actually required to display or even wear a cross so arguments that it cannot be removed are dubious. Nevertheless, some prominent Christians have made the argument.

    Because men rarely wear open-necked shirts to work in jobs that have a formal dresscode it is never likely to arise with a man. I cannot imagine that a man would get far arguing that he had the right to wear a cross on top of a tie.

  16. Roger says

    The relationship counsellor who said he had a conscientious objection to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples.

    Is he looking for trouble? What if he had just said he didn’t feel qualified to advise gay couples about sex therapy? After all, surely most gay couples would prefer or expect a gay relationship counsellor.

  17. dirigible says

    “Can you really blame these women for trying given the absurd allowances for other religions and the general postmodern mindset that your religion does/demands whatever you say it does?”


    I’m also less than impressed at exemptions for other religions, where they exist.

  18. latsot says

    I think the cases are being heard together because they are all supposedly cases of unfair dismissal. Despite all being quite obviously cases of totally fair dismissal.

    Is that the same lawyer who was interviewed on BBC Breakfast the other morning? If so, he is about the lyingest scumbag anyone has ever seen.

  19. Chris Lawson says

    Roger @19: I see no reason why gay couples would necessarily expect a gay counsellor. What they should expect, and have every right to expect, is a professional whose agenda is to help them with their relationship regardless of the counsellor’s sexual orientation.

  20. Chris Lawson says

    The sacked counsellor is to my mind the most egregious of these cases. The fellow was sacked *during training* when he expressed reservations about counselling gay couples. The organisation he was training for is Relate, a UK charity that specifically and prominently states in its literature and on its website that it is LGBT-friendly. This gibbering joithead is demanding the right to be employed for a role that he never had any intention of fulfilling.

  21. jose says

    ismenia, that’s what’s funny, Jesus himself told his disciples to hide their practices and prayers and do it in secret in Matthew 6, so they wouldn’t be “like the hypocrites”…

  22. Roger says

    What they should expect, and have every right to expect, is a professional whose agenda is to help them with their relationship regardless of the counsellor’s sexual orientation.

    True, Chris Lawson, but reports say he was expected to give “sex therapy advice”, where I’d have thought being gay would be an advantage. I’d have thought that if someone said they didn’t feel able or qualified to give advice in particular cases it would be preferable to giving advice regardless of doubts and inabilities. Relationship counselling is a broad subject and it would be foolish to expect people to be able to deal with every possible aspect. On the other hand, looking back, it was the man himself who said that that was what was expected of him, so it’s not a reliable source.

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