Comments: European Court to hear UK religious discrimination cases

'Christians against human rights' Doesn't it make a good headline. Just what the gospel says and Jesus taught?

God save us from 'Christians'

Posted by Richard Ashby at Saturday, 1 September 2012 at 2:32pm BST


Should the ECHR petitions succeed, a better headline might be 'Breaking news: Christians have human rights too!'

Christians should be 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves', rather than helpless judicial cannon fodder. St. Paul appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen and these British citizens petitioners have every right to appeal to the ECHR.

Of course, there are those who believe it is harmful to object conscientiously to an employer's policy that mandates that all civil marriage registrars to become CP registrars. I wonder how they feel about the statutory duty of priests towards any couple presenting themselves as having met the legal requirements for a parish marriage?

God save us from lawyers!

Posted by David Shepherd at Saturday, 1 September 2012 at 4:57pm BST

"I wonder how they feel about the statutory duty of priests towards any couple presenting themselves as having met the legal requirements for a parish marriage?"

That's nothing more than scaremongering considering that the government has confirmed many times that no priest would ever be forced to conduct same sex marriages and that, in fact, they would not be allowed to until the church had agreed to it through its usual processes. And that church lawyers agree with this assessment.

It worked with marriages of divorced people, why this determined effort to smear the campaign for civil marriage by pretending that it wouldn't work for same sex marriage too?

As for "Christians have human rights too" - it would be truly wonderful if the church could accept that gay Christians have human rights too.
I'm not holding my breath for the immediate future, though.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 1 September 2012 at 8:41pm BST

Joshua Rozenberg gives a very useful summa, at least with existing staffry.

When civil partnerships were introduced the expectation was that there would be some latitude given to those with a principled objection when CP registrars were appointed, at least with existing staff.
The blanket inclusion was not expected even if it was not excluded.
At the time I drafted an LGCM response saying it was an unfortunate policy to adopt, the matter could have been resolved by making it clear to all new registrars (or those being promoted) that they would also be civil partnerships registrars.

But what has been remarkable has been the VERY small numbers who have been accommodated in authorities who did allow discretion.

Also - this is an interesting look back and reading the contemporary reports reminds us how deeply deceitful some Christians opposed to Gay Marriage have been about their attitudes to civil partnerships. It is also useful to see how poorly the case was handled and manipulated up to now, I have frequently shared the same platforms as those whose cases are being reviewed and felt genuinely sad for the way they have been used.

Posted by Martino Reynoldo at Saturday, 1 September 2012 at 11:52pm BST

David Shepherd. Why continue the myth that Church employees would be guilty of a crime if they refused to marry anyone they thought did not measure up to their stringent requirement for Christian marriage.

This sort of scare-mongering ill befits ministers of the State Church, whose task is to bring the liberating love of God into human relationships.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 12:39am BST

One cannot help but be concerned about the public pronouncement of former bishop Michael Nazir-Ali - on the subject of the preferential rights of Christians in a multi-cultural society in Britain.
His is the rhetoric of a theocratic state, which Britain does not claim to be.

When the world worries about the forceful energies of theocratic governments in other parts of the world, where punitive regimes set out to apply drastic penalties for any activity seen to undermine their dogmatic religious rule; it ill behoves a former prelate of the Church of England - which recognises the validity of other religious communities in a multi-cultural society - to seek special privilege over other people's common human rights.

What with bishop Nazir Ali and archbishop George Carey's efforts to claim some sort of superiority in religious faith adherence in a multi-cultural Britain; this must trouble those leaders of the Christian community to squirm.

One wonders what Jesus would think about His followers claiming special rights - over the common human rights of the disenfranchised, the poor, and the marginalised - whether of other faiths or none?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 1:39am BST

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali: "Human rights ‘agenda’ is new totalitarianism"

It would be hysterical (in the sense of hysteria=crazy), if it weren't so tragic for the cause of the Gospel.

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 7:10am BST

although I think David Shepherd is deliberately scaremongering it is not true that anyone has to fulfil stringent criteria for Christian marriage in order to get married in a church. The CoE parish system means that anyone living in the parish has the right to a church wedding unless there are lawful impediments. The Coe's own website states:

"You’re welcome to marry in the Church of England whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are christened and regardless of whether you go to church or not. It’s your church, and we welcome you!"

The only exception to this are couples where at least one of the partners is divorced. In those cases the priest can refuse to conduct the wedding.

That's why I can understand people being afraid that, eventually, someone might try to force a priest into marrying a same sex couple.

But the proposed law is clear - unless the CoE itself changes its policy on same sex marriages, no priest will even be allowed to marry a same sex couple. Any service he or she might conduct will have no legal validity.

The protection is even greater than in the case of divorced couples, where the church allows every priest to follow his or her own conscience. And where there has not been a single case of coersion and not a single law-suit about the wronful withholding of a wedding.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 9:58am BST

Canadian courts have rejected the claims of marriage commissioners who want to recuse themselves. I think it's interesting that the court pointed out that the people were hired to do "non-religious ceremonies" (as opposed to ceremonies in which religion was a factor):

"The government proposed that marriage commissioners who were employed before the law changed in 2004 could refuse to perform the services. It also proposed a second option where all marriage commissioners could refuse.

But the court noted that marriage commissioners are appointed by the government to perform *non-religious ceremonies* and are the only option for some same-sex couples seeking to tie the knot.

Lawyers appointed to argue that the proposals were constitutional said that if anyone was refused a marriage service, it would be easy to find another commissioner who would perform the same service. The court of appeal wasn't persuaded by that argument, saying that both government proposals were "contrary to fundamental principles of equality in a democratic society" and must be rejected....

[Justice Robert] Richards also expressed concern that if marriage commissioners were allowed to opt out of services, they might also do so because they object to interfaith marriages or interracial marriages."

Posted by Randal Oulton at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 10:40am BST

'Lillian Ladele was working as a registrar with Islington Council when civil partnerships were introduced. The council originally agreed that she did not have to conduct civil partnership ceremonies'

But later, after this interim arrangement became untenable, as it put strain on her colleagues who were standing in for her on Saturdays etc., Miss Ladele was offered another post which did not involve conducting CPs, but she declined to accept this offer. Thus, clearing her way for litigation it would appear.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 11:22am BST

"Human rights 'agenda' is the new totalitarianism."

The ruling mullahs of Iran, the Taliban holy men of Afghanistan, the Chinese regime, the ruling Kim dynasty of North Korea, the junta of Burma/Myanmar, and the embattled Assad dynasty of Syria couldn't agree more.

Posted by Counterlight at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 12:39pm BST

Erika: 'The only exception to this are couples where at least one of the partners is divorced. In those cases the priest can refuse to conduct the wedding.'

Not quite the _only_ exception. There's a similar discretion for individual priests in the case of couples who would have been too closely related to marry under old versions of the table of kindred and affinity, but are legally permitted to marry under the current version.

Posted by Feria at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 1:15pm BST

I did not know that!
And there are also some special rules and exemptions for foreigners wanting to marry in church.

The main point, though, is that these exemptions exist, that they are honoured by everyone and that no-one has yet tried to enforce a different personal view through the courts.

There really is nothing to fear from civil same sex marriage.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 1:40pm BST

My personal hope is that all cases are turned down by the ECHR. In part this is because the ECHR is a conservative court that allows for a margin of appreciation to member states as opposed to micro managing minor matters.

The balance between the rights of different groups is better established at the national level through Parliament and a national judicial process (which have already taken place in the UK).

A positive ruling would have a significant impact on the manifestation of religion in other ECHR countries so I think the Court will take a balanced, cautious view of these matters.

The whole thing about marriage is, of course, overblown. It is quite clear that the law allowing for same sex marriage will quite clearly specify that neither faith bodies nor individual religious celebrants are obliged to conduct marriages where they do not wish to do so. That was always clearly going to be the case.

The C of E are just vexed because they will have to change their website to 'we will only marry you if you're a mix sexed couple' and that will make them look as if they're discriminating against same sex couples - largely because that is what they will be doing.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 1:56pm BST


Scaremongering, eh? I realise that you consider government promises are iron-clad and not open to amendment, since Lord Ali's CP clause is a mere figment of my imagination.

Although we have vastly differing viewpoints, Feria and I agree that without overriding General Synod 'Parliament retains the power to approve liturgy itself':

Liberal scaremongering? God forbid!

Posted by David Shepherd at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 2:45pm BST

For the record, I stated in the same comment thread:
'I don't think the State would force either a priest or religion to act against conscience. It would be more plausible for a well-funded pressure group to sponsor a case that would test the exemption of CofE priests from solemnising marriages of gay partners as an infringement of Article 12 rights all the way to Strasbourg. The easiest remedy would be to remove the historic duty of the priest to marry all eligible partners who request a church wedding and reside in the parish.'

So, Ron, Erika and whoever wants to attribute views to me that I don't espouse. Try the truth!

Posted by David Shepherd at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 3:24pm BST

yes, any future parliament could make all kinds of changes to all kinds of laws. That's the nature of parliament.

And any future General Synod could make all kinds of changes to all kinds of rules governing the church of England. That's the nature of Synod.

And any future pressure group could try to test all kinds of things in all kinds of courts.

But it's not helpful to discuss hypothetical things that aren't on the table. What IS on the table is a promise by the Government to frame the legislation so that the church will not have to marry a same sex couple.
On the contrary, the real battle is currently fought by those faith groups would want to be allowed to marry same sex couples! Because the first indications from the Government have been that it would prohibit religous same sex marriages just to placate the CoE and those churches who believe they should have the right to legislate for all other faith groups too.

But, yes, you can choose to live in a hypothetical future and fear that, inch by inch, the world might move towards it.

I choose to live in the real present engaging with the actual realities before me.
And they are pretty safe for the church.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 4:58pm BST

'Because the first indications from the Government have been that it would prohibit religous same sex marriages just to placate the CoE and those churches who believe they should have the right to legislate for all other faith groups too.'

Yes, and the first indications from the previous administration was that they would prohibit civil partnerships on religious premises.

Far from wild prognostications, I am simply demonstrating that history will repeat itself in spite of firm undertakings to the contrary. That's more reality than assuming the church adopt a blinkered naïveté that ignores past behaviour.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Posted by David Shepherd at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 7:49pm BST

Art 12 of the Convention explicitly states the right to marry is in accordance with national legislation. I can't honestly see how a case could even be taken let alone won, seeing same sex couples would have a right to get married and religious bodies (the Church of England is still a religious body) would have the right to conduct such marriages if they wish or decline to do so if they wish and religious celebrants likewise. I fail to see what the case being taken would consist of.

As to the distinction between what a State does and of ECHR rulings, they come to the same thing. The Court is actually there to review whether States are respecting the rights of the Convention. ECHR rulings require an Act of Parliament to be brought into effect. So, the only way churches and ministers of religion could be forced to marry against their teachings would be through the State - ironically of course such a law would clearly breach the Convention.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 9:32pm BST

"Once bitten, twice shy"

Er... there are no Civil Partnerships in religious premises.
And no-one is forcing the church to bless any.

No change anywhere only the persmission to change if the church wanted to.
Parliament is not stopping the church from being responsible for its own choices - is that really what once bitten twice shy amounts to?

As for the church adopting an attitude of naivety, I think it has made its position quite clear and there's nothing naive about it, just a lot of fear and a lot of closing the doors to people.

Whether that will ultimately be shown to have been a wise position to adopt is another question. But it is certainly not one any government is forcing it to move away from.

In the civil sphere things are different, of course, and it would be naive of the church to expect that it can continue to discriminate against gay people.

It will be interesting to see what the ECHR will make of the 4 cases it is about to hear.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 10:10pm BST

'Er... there are no Civil Partnerships in religious premises.'

Tell Kieran Bohan and Warren Hartley. Their Civil Partnership ceremony was held at the Ullett Road Unitarian Church in June.

I presume your next rallying cry will be to extend British Citizenship 'equality' to all who reside here. It currently 'discriminates' against non-natives. Use PC language and victim status shrewdly and yet another institution becomes ripe for the great liberal harvest.

Posted by David Shepherd at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 11:26pm BST

John Courtney Murray S.J. must be rolling over in his grave.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 4:13am BST

'Well funded pressure groups' - now there's an idea that could be adopted from what some might call the 'religious right'! Anybody have a donor or two in mind?

Posted by commentator at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 6:49am BST

"Miss Ladele was offered another post which did not involve conducting CPs, but she declined to accept this offer. Thus, clearing her way for litigation it would appear." --

She's being egged on and funded, fair enough.

The truly sad thing is that as a black person, Ladele should realize that there truly are still people in the American south, for instance, who don't believe in interracial marriage owing to their religious beliefs (we've seen it twice in southern churches in the past 12 months for instance) -- and that's she's fighting for them. I think her thinking on this is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. But then, no court will ever convict these people of being *Thinking* Anglicans, eh?

Posted by Randal Oulton at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 7:37am BST

I admit I find it hard to sympathise with Lillian Ladele, when she's been working happily as a civil registrar for years. How many of the heterosexual marriages she conducted would count as adultery, if she took Jesus' words on remarriage after divorce literally? But it's apparently only with gays that she decides that there is no room for differing interpretations of Scripture, and that her conscience can't allow helping such couples to commit to one another.

Posted by magistra at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 7:55am BST

as we said, Parliament is not stopping any religious insitutions from conducting Civil Partnerships.
It is not forcing them either.

And the Unitarians have long said that they wish not to be ruled by CoE moral disdain but that they have made up their own minds and wish to be able to follow their own discernment.

This is a far cry from Parliament forcing any church to conduct Civil Partnerships. And it comes neatly into the category of the freedom of religious bodies to their own conscience that you also defend so strongly.

If you have a problem with the Unitarians you must take it up with them.
The CoE is not bound by what the Unitarians do, nor is anyone else forcing it to follow suit.

It is, however, allowed to change its minds should it wish to do so.

I can understand that you are pretty scared that it might eventually want to do so.
But it will only ever be a decicion made by the church through its own system of governance.

As it stands, there are no Civil Partnerships in the CoE.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 9:43am BST

I have some sympathy for Joshua Rozenberg’s conclusion that : “Everyone should respect the rights of same-sex couples to register civil partnerships in accordance with the law. But we should also respect the rights of those with religious convictions, so long as those beliefs do not conflict with the rights of others. Surely a fair and balanced approach to both rights is not too much to ask?”

The argument is, however, based on assessing Ms Ladele’s rights compared with the rights of the couples who wish to register Civil Partnerships, and it concludes that not a single Civil Partnership was prevented by her refusal to conduct them.

I think this leaves out the third parties in this dispute – the colleagues who have to cover for her. If I understand the case correctly, Ms Ladele was initially allowed to refuse to register CPs but this was later judged not to be practical any longer as it meant extra burdens on the other registrars.
And her refusal to conduct CPs but to expect them to stand in for her does indeed conflict with their right to the same working terms and conditions she enjoys.

In the spirit of compromise and cooperation Mr Rozenberg calls for it cannot be right that some people working in public service are given the absolute right to decide who they will work for while others are required to keep the service going by consistently picking up the pieces.
Once you allow exceptions like this you will then end up with the possibility that a registrar who strongly believes homosexuality is immoral but who is not religious being forced to conduct CPs while people who can use their faith as a reason for the same feelings of revulsion get away with it.
The only fair conclusion is to treat all registrars absolutely the same and expect exactly the same service from all of them.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 10:03am BST

Dear David,

My point from that thread was that it doesn't make sense to talk about Parliament "forcing" the Church of England to do anything (and I acknowledge that you personally are not one of the guilty parties with respect to talking that particular nonsense). Parliament is the primary decision-making organ - the "brain", if you like - of the Church of England. Therefore, anything enacted by Parliament is, by definition, something to which the Church of England has voluntarily agreed.

Not only that, as Erika points out, the historical record shows that, every time Parliament actually _has_ extended the range of marriages or civil partnerships that can take place in a religious setting, it has allowed a no-questions-asked opt-out either for individual priests (remarriage of divorcees, and the 1949 and 1986 changes to the table of kindred and affinity) or for General Synod (the Alli amendment).

Posted by Feria at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 10:55am BST

"Once you allow exceptions like this ..."

I think that the point here was that there was an expectation of there being some difficulty and so the regulations allowed local authorities to separately appoint Registrars as CP Registrars. They remain different animals.

The decision to appoint all Registrars as CP Registrars was not universal. Many local authorities accommodated those who did not want to do the job, though it clearly interfered with career prospects as no Registrar who was excused the task could expect to become a Superintendent Registrar in whose name the civil registrations takes place, and I must assume, though I have not been informed of any examples, that any Superintendent Registrar who had scruples would have had to resign - or take a lower post.

It is true that Ms Ladele was offered alternative work and sadly choose to resign some considerable time later, but I think she was badly advised and I have considerable sympathy for her and the way she has been manipulated.

Posted by Martino Reynoldo at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 4:17pm BST

Erika quotes the C of E website as saying: '"You’re welcome to marry in the Church of England whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are christened and regardless of whether you go to church or not. It’s your church, and we welcome you!"'

I continue to be surprised by differences between 'Anglican' churches. The Anglican Church of Canada canon on marriage explicitly prohibits clergy from officiating at the wedding of two people neither of whom are baptised.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 4:41pm BST

"It would be more plausible for a well-funded pressure group to sponsor a case that would test the exemption of CofE priests from solemnising marriages of gay partners as an infringement of Article 12 rights all the way to Strasbourg."
- David shepherd -

Your talk of a 'well-funded group' able to fund religious pressure groups are more likely to be the same as those which are presently funding the GAFCON agenda - devoted to border-crossing in the U.S., and funding conservative Churches in Africa.

This is usually from organisations the the U.S.-based Christian-Right (probably responsible for AMiA's activity in the U.K.)

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 12:54am BST

Tim, between the marriage act of 1753, and the marriage act of 1836, the only legally recognised marriages were performed in the Church of England, where they were legally registered. (I believe this was not true for the Jewish community and for Quakers but do not know the details of their exemptions). Most certainly, all Unitarians (including Elizabeth Gaskell) and all Roman Catholics,all Methodists, etc had to marry in the C of E. After 1836, it became possible for couples to marry in other denominations. Such things leave a lasting mark on the legislature. Currently C of E clergy are bound to marry spinsters and bachelors resident in their parishes. However they are not bound to marry divorced persons. It is this position which enables one side of the debate to say firmly that gay couples will be able to insist on being married, and the other side (citing the exemption from marrying divorced persons) to equally insist the clergy will not be able to be forced to marry same sex couples.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 8:03am BST

Thank you for that clarification, Martin.

So can we say that Islington had the choice to appoint special CP Registrars but chose not to do so? Do we know why? It seems that it would have made sense to have done so.
Not having done it, of course, all Registrars should now be treated the same.

I agree that Ms Ladele was badly advised. In fact, I believe all those who are bringing these cases have been badly advised and are being badly exploited.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 8:11am BST


I salute your exceptionally fair-minded treatment of this issue, regardless of the Strasbourg outcome that you support.

However much you may disagree with Ladele, you rightly highlight that the issue was not only predicted, but also better accommodated by other local authorities.

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 8:15am BST


I re-iterate my view that I don't think that the CofE will be forced by legislative fiat into solemnising marriage for gays and lesbians. Nevertheless, it's facile of others to compare the church's exemption from re-marrying divorcees with implementing same-sex marriage in a manner that contravenes UK and European Equality legislation. Divorced status is not a protected characteristic, whereas sexual orientation is.

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 11:10am BST

Here's a question that needs answering, I think:

How many registrars did Islington have on staff when the CP legislation was passed? Is it possible the Superintendent Registrar felt that exempting Ms. Ladele (or anyone else so inclined) would have left the office with too few registrars for the work load?

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 11:12am BST

"The Anglican Church of Canada canon on marriage explicitly prohibits clergy from officiating at the wedding of two people neither of whom are baptised."
- Tim Chesterton -

The A.C.of Canada is not the State Church. Things are very different in the Church of England (my alma mater) - where every citizen is considered to be entitled to be married in their local parish church. This is a legal entitlement, and the Vicar would have problems in officially denying any parishioner the right to marriage in the local parish church.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 11:19am BST

That's not quite right Erika. The Register of Marriage Registrars and the Register of CP Registrars are two separate registers. Islington had to proactively register Ms Ladele as a CP Registrar, which they did (as I understand it) either without her consent or on the basis that she would be able to arrange her working patterns in accordance with her conscience.

What she should have done is resigned at that point and claimed constructive dismissal. It was perhaps her desire to be flexible and accommodating that was her downfall.

Posted by tommiaquinas at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 12:03pm BST

Erica, my experience of talking with those involved is they have been exploited, as you say.

In the Ladele case I believe there were several attempts at accommodation. At first she was excused CPs, but I understand that she let it be known that she was ducking the duty and why, two gay colleagues objected. I understand she was then invited to officiate at "silent" CP's, it's important to remember that although Superintendent Registrars have variously authorised forms of words to precede signing the Civil Partnership Schedule, they are entirely superfluous. Couples frequently chose to turn up with their witnesses and sign the Schedule without these confections. Ms Ladele
was not willing to oversee these.

I believe Islington made the decision to enrol all their Registrars as CP registrars under their equal treatment policy, that has been cited to me by other authorities who followed the same path.

As a matter of interest I believe Ms Ladele should have made her protest then, refusing to be so nominated. Having allowed herself to be so nominated it looks bad for her that she then won't do her job.

Posted by Martino Reynoldo at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 12:27pm BST

I don't know how these cases will turn out, but hope that the European courts will not rule that it's illegal for Christians to wear crosses at work: both because of the consequences for Christians, and those for people of other faiths who wear religious symbols at work without any particular wish to oppress Christians.

Posted by Gerry Dorrian at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 11:51pm BST

I shall here be facile - it won't be against UK equality legislation for the C of E to be able to decline to marry same sex couples but both in line with current equality legislation which exempts religions in both employment and goods and services as well as being an integral part of the legislation allowing same marriage (as happens consistently across the world).

There is only employment protection at an EU level regarding sexual orientation so the issue doesn't even arise in EU equality law (if such a Directive were to be passed it would have the same exemptions. Human rights law in the UK and Europe also protect religious freedom under art 9.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 1:44am BST

I don't think the question "is it legal or illegal to wear crosses at work" is being asked. What is being asked is "can an employer, for good reason, ask that no jewellery shall be worn with work uniform, and does Christian jewellery fall within this remit".

To my mind, it is absolutely astonishing that a nurse should not understand that it is dangerous to wear a dangly necklace on duty.

The other question should be "to which extent is wearing a cross a central requirement of the Christian faith".

It is obvious that a Muslim woman should not be asked to bare her hair or that Sikhs should be refused their turbans.
But the cross is nothing more than a voluntary statement of faith not required by Christianity. It is not part of religious observance.

It therefore doesn't really come under the heading of protecting people's right to their faith.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 9:32am BST

The thing that strikes me in this is the question of how deeply Christian it is to be concerned about articles of religious clothing or decoration, and the ability to make determinations about the moral status of other parties, refusing to have anything to do with them. WWJD? Perhaps more directly, WDJS (what did Jesus say?) about such matters. Critique of broad phylacteries and fellowship with outcasts seems rather to have been his metier.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 3:49pm BST

It's very interesting to read the consequences of establishment when it comes to officiating at marriages. Here in the States, ECUSA's Canons state, "It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize any marriage" (Canon I, 18). It did not occur to me that this conscience clause was not included in every Anglican Province's view of marriage.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 7:01pm BST

How dare they turn the Cross of Christ into a political pawn, to be dragged through the courts and the mud ?

Turning It into a jewellery accessory ?

'if any one suffer as a Christian...' - now that would more truly be cross-bearing. And witness.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 7:02pm BST

Non British TA readers and Guardian regulars might be interested in a national daily front page from this morning (Wednesday)

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 10:11pm BST

"But the cross is nothing more than a voluntary statement of faith not required by Christianity. It is not part of religious observance."

I think you're wrong, Erika (I think you're right, though, about it not being always safe to wear jewelry on the job in some professions). Bearing witness to Christ - making voluntary statements of faith - is an integral part of Christian religious observance. This may not be the way that we choose to bear witness, but I question our authority to make up other people's minds for them in this matter.

Christianity isn't monolithic, so it's a little strange to see this thread contain several comments which imply that it is, and that the commenter's form of practice is normative. I suspect that these same commenters would be loathe to insist that there were a one-size-fits-all version of the Virgin Birth for all Christians, but when it comes to jewelry it's another matter.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Wednesday, 5 September 2012 at 11:19pm BST

Yes, Laurie, and despite Erica's careful parsing of the difference the law MAY attribute to different customs, interestingly I think the government opposition has more to do with what will follow on in the form of other apparel that might lay claim to religious value if the cross is allowed. I have the smallest suspicion that some of the same newspapers screaming for the cross would be screaming in even bigger headlines to see these banned!

I am sorry, the link I provided above changes every day as the front page of the paper changes, I should have realised!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 8:59am BST

of course, this is one of the questions the court will have to decide.
But I think that there is a difference between a voluntary statement of faith and one that is required of every member of that faith.
I don't know whether the law as it stands covers any voluntary expression of faith.

And in case of the nurse, let's not forget that she was offered the option to wear a pin with a cross on her uniform, all they asked her to do was not to wear a dangly necklace.

I'm even less sure that religious people should have the right to determine precisely where and how they wear those symbols they believe to be an integral part of their faith.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 11:00am BST

Actually I think the few Sikhs I've met were the only religion where every member I've known obeyed the same laws regarding dress--and that may have been because I've known so few. There are millions of Muslim women who don't wear head scarves/coverings. They aren't mandatory. Jews also don't all conform to one dress code. So how can they say Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, etc. can do what they want, just not Christians because it isn't mandatory? If Eadie had said that Muslims or Jews should just go find another job, would that have been acceptable?

Posted by Chris H. at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 12:56pm BST

I agree with Bill. Unfortunately, the issue is that the ECHR has fairly strict criteria for determining what qualifies as a manifestation of one's religion. It must be prescribed by religious authority, such as scripture, rather than merely inspired, or encouraged.

The British Sikh Federation successfully campaigned for an exemption from wearing a safety helmet or hard-hat on construction sites. So, in Section 11 of the Employment Act, it states: “Any requirement to wear a safety helmet which …would, by virtue of any statutory provision or rule of law, be imposed on a Sikh who is on a construction site shall not apply to him at any time when he is wearing a turban”.

In the case of an article that is not considered a manifestation of one's religion, the ECHR has stated that it 'is likely to recognise a certain “margin of appreciation” on the part of state authorities, particularly where the justification advanced by the state is public safety'.

So, Sikhs who wear turbans are exempt from the use of mandatory safety headgear on construction sites and Muslim modesty is accommodated in the NHS by allowing headscarves and providing disposable plastic over-sleeves. These 'requirements' of religion trump public safety.

In contrast, the Court of Appeal upheld an employer's right to ban the wearing of a one-inch long crucifix because:
1. it is not a uniformly imposed requirement of the Christian faith and therefore cannot be defined as a manifestation of religion.
2. it does not put Christians, as a group, at a disadvantage through indirect discrimination.

On this basis, I doubt that the cases relating to wearing a crucifix will succeed. While I feel compassion for the petitioners, those cases will clearly distinguish the genuine requirements of Christian faith from those religions that prescribe conformity to externalisms of attire.

Fortunately, Christianity is designed to adapt to the likely total denial of its adherents' human rights. As Christ said, 'God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.' Anything more is the leaven of the Pharisees, i.e. those who assume that God cannot see self-advancing motives behind the facade of form, ritual and the ostentation of religious symbols.

Posted by David Shepherd at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 1:21pm BST

I'm still trying to get my thoughts on this straight.
Would you not say that the issue in the nurse's case is not whether she was allowed to wear a cross or not, but where she was allowed to wear it?
Her employer did offer her to wear a cross on her lapel or collar but she insisted on a necklace.

Can that really still be covered by an appeal to religous rights?

Your example of Sikhs wearing turbans is interesting and I had not considered it in that context before. That does rather suggest that health and safety does not trump the right to religious expression.

On the other hand - this case was never tested at the ECHR and who knows, if it ever came to court, the decision might well go against the Sikh community.
So what it appears to show first and foremost is a greater level of tolerance, not a legal right.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 1:51pm BST

As Mr. Shepherd and I rarely agree, I want to note that fact. I did not mean my earlier comment to suggest any lack of compassion, by the way, for the litigants; merely to note, as Mr. S. does, that wearing cross jewelery is not a requirement of the Christian faith. Making an issue of it appears to trivialize the meaning of "persecution."

Posted by Tobias Haller at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 2:34pm BST

Point of information: Does the exemption for turban-wearing Sikhs from wearing hardhats assume that the turban (+ the uncut hair beneath it) gives protection roughly similar to the usual gear? If not, was there any discussion of adapting the safety helmet's design for wear over a turban? Or is the Sikh objection to the helmet simply that nothing should be worn over the turban?

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 3:42pm BST

I think Bill is struggling with this a bit.

Perhaps he might find the Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act 1976 an informative read.

ED: here it is Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act 1976

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 6 September 2012 at 8:58pm BST

You're right. In Ms. Chaplin's case, the uniform policy was clear that jewellery had to be discreet and necklaces were banned. However, once the V-neck uniforms were introduced in June 2007, the cross that was concealed by the higher neckline of the previous uniform contravened policy. Not because it was a cross, but because it posed a health and safety risk, especially if her geriatric patients.

As you say, a cross worn as a lapel or collar badge does not pose the same risk. I have a nagging concern that the Trust Risk Register 2009 noted of the same trust: 'Failure of Junior Doctors recruitment process with positions remaining unfilled. Patient safety compromised. Breach of EWTD (European Working Time Directive) legislation.'

Two wrongs don't make a right, but when you compare the patient safety impact, the cross issue strains at a gnat, while the failed junior doctor recruitment drive swallows a camel whole.

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 7 September 2012 at 1:09am BST

Dear Bill,

The exemption from wearing helmets on construction sites for Sikhs was proposed by Lord Strathclyde. In the House of Lords, on 16th October 1989, he said:

'Some noble Lords said that Sikhs might be prepared to remove their turbans or wear specially designed helmets over their turbans. I am sure that some Sikhs would. Indeed, I understand that in some cases they already do. However, we have been given to understand by the Sikh community as a whole that these solutions are totally unacceptable to orthodox Sikhs and therefore to the Sikh community as a whole. Many Sikhs will not wear anything on their heads except a turban.'

Posted by Feria at Friday, 7 September 2012 at 11:48am BST

Dear David,

I was intrigued by your statement that 'Divorced status is not a protected characteristic, whereas sexual orientation is', and looked into it.

You're right that in the sense that divorced status is not on the closed list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010.

However, the Equality Act 2010 is not the only piece of equality legislation in force. In particular, the list of protected characteristics in article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights includes "other status", making it open-ended.

Specifically, in F. vs. Switzerland (1987), the European Court of Human Rights held (without explicitly citing article 14) that 'If national legislation allows divorce,... Article 12 secures for divorced persons the right to remarry without unreasonable restrictions.'

Yet in the intervening twenty-five years, I haven't seen any sign of Church of England Priests being hauled before the courts for using their discretion in this matter. This seems to be a further indication that, if national legislation (and a revised liturgy) allows an analogous discretion for individual priests with respect to same-sex marriage, the ECtHR will be likely to consider that discretion proportionate, and respect it. And in that case, I find it rather hard to imagine the ECJ and the British domestic courts failing to follow the ECtHR's lead.

Posted by Feria at Tuesday, 11 September 2012 at 1:35pm BST


A fair point regarding the broader protections of European Law that includes marital status.

In respect of hauling priest before the courts, I hardly think that most divorcees would pursue further litigation against the CofE priests for marriage discrimination, after the emotional and financial expense of concluding a previous failed marriage. It's much easier to opt for a civil ceremony, when your church wedding fantasy has evaporated.

Would idealistic hitherto unmarried couples wanting a parish wedding accept a civil ceremony, rather than insist? I'm not so sure.

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 11 September 2012 at 11:51pm BST

David: 'It's much easier to opt for a civil ceremony'

Or indeed to take a short limousine ride to another parish with which they have a qualifying connection - which is presumably one of the reasons why the ECtHR hasn't held (probably hasn't even been asked to hold) that the discretion of individual priests on remarrying divorcees is an "unreasonable restriction" in the F. vs. Switzerland sense. It would, I think, be pretty straightforward to set up a completely analogous system for same-sex marriage.

Posted by Feria at Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 11:15am BST
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