In September this year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will deal with cases involving workers dismissed for 'expressing' their Christian beliefs. According today's Daily Telegraph, Lord Carey has filed a statement in the ECtHR to support the applicants.
Two of those trooping to the Strasbourg Court are Gary McFarlane and Lilian Ladele.
McFarlane was a Christian working for Relate. He was dismissed because he felt 'uncomfortable' giving sex therapy to gay couples. Lilian Ladele worked for Islington Council as a Registrar. Because of her religious beliefs she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies. She was dismissed.
The Ladele case is a good starting point. It was heard by a powerful Court of Appeal. Lord Neuberger the Master of the Rolls said this
“[I]t appears to me that the fact that Ms Ladele’s refusal to perform civil partnerships was based on her religious view of marriage could not justify the conclusion that Islington should not be allowed to implement its aim to the full, namely that all registrars should perform civil partnerships as part of its Dignity for All policy. Ms Ladele was employed in a public job and was working for a public authority; she was being required to perform a purely secular task, which was being treated as part of her job; Ms Ladele’s refusal to perform that task involved discriminating against gay people in the course of that job; she was being asked to perform the task because of Islington’s Dignity for All policy, whose laudable aim was to avoid, or at least minimise, discrimination both among Islington’s employees, and as between Islington (and its employees) and those in the community they served; Ms Ladele’s refusal was causing offence to at least two of her gay colleagues; Ms Ladele’s objection was based on her view of marriage, which was not a core part of her religion; and Islington’s requirement in no way prevented her from worshipping as she wished.”
He went on the make a distinction, often forgotten when looking at Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 9 guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It offers no protection of such a belief’s content in the name only of its religious credentials. In the Ladele case, Lord Neuberger disposed of the discrimination point easily
"the Strasbourg jurisprudence on Article 9, supported the view that Ms Ladele’s desire to have her religious views respected should not be allowed “to override Islington’s concern to ensure that all its registrars manifest equal respect for the homosexual community as for the heterosexual community”.
Back to the McFarlane case. Lord Carey filed a statement on behalf of McFarlane.
One of his grumbles was that he saw the judges as unable to deal with matters of religion.
'.....I appeal to the Lord Chief Justice to establish a specialist Panel of Judges designated to hear cases engaging religious rights. Such Judges should have a proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues and I would be supportive of Judges of all faiths and denominations being allocated to such a Panel. The Judges engaged in the cases listed above should recuse themselves from further adjudication on such matters as they have made clear their lack of knowledge about the Christian faith.”
This was dealt with speedily by the Master of the Rolls.
'They administer the law in accordance with the judicial oath: without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.'
The Court then dealt with McFarlane's argument that he should be allowed to express his faith by refusing to counsel gays. In other words; should he be allowed to engage in discrimination?
Imagine there was a sect of Mormonism that still believed inter racial marriage was wrong and no members could marry outside the faith. Such a belief would certainly be protected by Secion 9 of the ECHR.
Now imagine a member of this faith was employed by Relate as a counsellor. He refused to help mixed race couples with their sexual problems. Or one employed by a local council as a regisrar who refused to perform marriages between mixed races? I suspect few would have any difficulty in supporting the employer in both these cases who, after going through a lengthy dismissal procedure, sacked their employees.
Put in these terms, and it is precisely in these terms the ECtHR will examine the cases in September, it's difficult to see the Strasbourg judges spending too much time on another of Lord Cary's interventions.