Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Christians should prepare for further job discrimination following today’s European Court ruling

Two British Christians who refused to act contrary to conscience have lost their legal battle at the European court of human rights in a move that demonstrates that ‘gay rights’ trump ‘conscience rights’ when the two conflict.

Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele (pictured) had their appeals to the Strasbourg court rejected in January and had sought to resolve the matter in the court's grand chamber, its final arbiter. However, judges at the court have rejected the request, in effect ending the legal battle.

Ladele, 52, a local authority registrar, was disciplined by Islington council in London for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, while McFarlane, 51, a Bristol relationship counsellor, was dismissed by the charity Relate for saying he might object to assisting same-sex couples with their sex lives.

The court had previously ruled that both employers' actions were justified, given their obligations to prevent discrimination against people using their services.

In 2003 Miss Ladele, who was being defended by the Christian Institute, told her managers at Islington Council that, should civil partnerships ever become law, she would have a conflict of conscience based upon her Christian beliefs about marriage.

Following the introduction of civil partnerships, she wrote to her employer in 2006 asking for a reasonable accommodation of her religious objection to same-sex civil partnerships.

Islington accepted that it had enough registrars to provide a civil partnership service to the public without requiring Miss Ladele’s involvement. But managers at the council refused her request, and demanded that she carry out civil partnership registrations against her will.

McFarlane, who was being defended by the Christian Legal Centre, had practised as a relationships counsellor for a number of years. Then, during a training course for a new skill, he was prompted to indicate that if the situation ever arose he might have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to a same-sex couple on account of his Christian faith.

He was dismissed for gross misconduct for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, despite the fact that (i) the issue involved a hypothetical scenario and (ii) there was never a risk of anyone being denied a service to which they were entitled (since there were many other counsellors who were willing and able to provide it). 

The dismissal by Relate (his employer) was on principle and it was irrelevant whether he could have been accommodated.  A dismissal for gross misconduct is the most severe sanction available to an employer. 

The two rulings demonstrate that under British law gay rights now trump conscience rights and that reasonable accommodation need not be made for employees. At a stroke this puts at risk the job of any employee objecting to helping gay couples in activities they believe to be wrong (eg. Celebrating a civil partnership, adopting a baby, having sexual counselling etc).

The decision of the Grand Chamber has understandably prompted calls for more robust protections to be put in place for Christians in the Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The House of Lords is due to vote on the Bill at Second Reading next Monday 3 June.

It has been argued that if this latter bill goes through those who refuse to endorse gay marriage (eg. Teachers, Council workers, healthcare workers) could similarly find their jobs to be at risk.

Amidst the rulings however there were some rays of hope for conscience rights.

The European Court decided that decisions of the UK Courts were within the 'margin of appreciation' (discretion) that it allows to national Courts - but in so doing it challenged many of the principles adopted by UK Courts and asserted by the British government. 

So for example, the UK Courts had held that beliefs about marriage as between a man and a woman was not a core component of Christian belief and so not protected. The European Court said that these beliefs were part of Gary and Lillian's Christian identity and so were in principle protected!

The British Government also suggested that because the individuals were free to resign and find other jobs, there had been no infringement of their freedom of religion - in other words, 'your freedom to resign secures your freedom of religion'.  But the European Court ruled that 'freedom to resign and find another job' is not sufficient to guarantee religious freedom.

These are significant breakthroughs and will be a great help in contending for Christian freedoms in the UK Courts in the future. 

Last month the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on all member states to respect conscience and accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere. The situation facing UK Christians was recorded in the report that was prepared for the debate that took place before the vote. This shows how the cases have influenced Council of Europe opinion and consequent policy.

This month, a member of the EU Delegation to the International Organisations in Vienna wrote:

‘We are concerned about rising anti-Christian intolerance and violence... a trend which often remains unnoticed.’

Christians and others, living in a free democratic society, should not be forced, at fear of losing their jobs, to do things they believe are profoundly wrong. Instead reasonable accommodation should be made for them.

In both these cases it could have been, but the respective employers decided instead, backed by the law, to put these two employees in an impossible situation.

Whilst neither Ladele nor McFarlane were healthcare workers the same principles will apply to doctors, nurses and others who find themselves in similar moral dilemmas (I have previously commented on the way that British law and employment regulations are marginalising Christian health professionals). 

Whilst we must not give up the fight these cases should not surprise us given Britain’s progressive slide into secularism.

The Bible tells us that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). It is part and parcel of following Christ, so best to prepare for it now.

Christians contemplating these circumstances need to draw a line in the sand and not be intimidated. In so doing they stand by biblical precedent.

The Hebrew midwives when ordered by the king of Egypt to kill all male Hebrew children refused to do so and as a result we are told that God commended and rewarded them (Ex 1:15-22).

Rahab the harlot similarly refused to co-operate with the king of Jericho in handing over the innocent Israelite spies (Jos 2:1-14). She is later praised for her faith in so doing (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25).

Even the prospect of death as a consequence of disobedience to state law did not stop Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down to the image (Dan 4:6-8), or Daniel persisting with public prayer (Dan 6:1-10).

In the New Testament when Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish authorities not to preach the Gospel they replied 'We must obey God rather than men' and went right on doing it (Acts 5:29). 

We need to do the same and leave the eventual outcome in God's hands. Whether we are vindicated or condemned he will be glorified. 


  1. Would you still defend their "freedom of conscience" if they wanted to deny Christian couples of a different sext their services, Peter?

    1. I don't think people should be forced to do things they believe are profoundly wrong but can you give me a real-life example of this hypothetical scenario?

    2. OK, should Mormons be required to counsel Baptists, or Baptists counsel Catholics who seek their service?

    3. The issue is not about faith differences. It is about not endorsing and promoting same sex erotic partnerships.

    4. You're contradicting yourself, Pete. First you paint this as an issue of religious freedom, now you're framing it as an issue of personal morality and what people who serve the public should or should not be allowed to do.

    5. Not at all. Employees should not be forced to provide 'services' they have a conscientious objection to. It is an objection not to the person but to the 'service'.

    6. I object to Muslim women coming into my shop with their faces covered. Do you think I should be allowed to refuse to serve them?

    7. It depends what you are selling and what they are wanting to buy.

      What kind of shop do you have and what do you sell?

      Are you a rubber stamp who *must* sell any item to anybody who asks or are there some things you will not sell to certain people on principle?

    8. Interesting real-life scenario: I was involved in a situation where there was a committee position up for election. This guy would have been perfect for the job, but he was a very strict Mormon. Mormons cannot drink or serve another person alcohol or caffeine. This job traditionally involved offering people cups of tea. He didn't stand. I thought this was a real shame. It would have been so simple for someone else on the committee to serve the tea.

      Not expecting people to act against their conscience is about respect for that person. It has nothing to do with anybody else. It's about saying 'Well, I don't really know what your objection to something as harmless as tea is, but if I objected to something other people didn't understand I'd want them to respect me, so I'm going to respect you.'

      Now, if he had said 'Mormons are against tea, I'm going to bann tea at committee meetings'. That would have been a different thing.

    9. Yes indeed. reasonable accommodation means that we make room for people who have a genuine conscientious objection to being involved in some activities by getting others to cover those activities. We don't force them to do what they believe is wrong and then sack them when they refuse as happened with Ladele and McFarlane.

    10. Peter, if they were willing to provide the service to every couple except gay couples, then they are objecting to the people in question, not to performing the service in general.

    11. For 'every couple except gay couples'?

      In the case of Ladele only gay couples can have civil partnerships and she was objecting to registering civil partnerships.

      In the case of McFarlane he was objecting to coaching gay couples how to have sex.

      Would you have forced them both to do these things and have sacked them if they refused?

    12. Yes, I would. If they don't want to serve the public in such a manner, they should not be working there. In a similar vein, chemists and their employees should not be permitted to refuse women access to emergency contraception.

      Unless, as a pro-lifer, you are willing to allow pro-choice hospice workers to deny pro-lifers access to analgesics. If you were willing to make that concession, I'd consider that a fair exchange.

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  2. And without a doubt other areas of life will be affected, beside employment. But on what basis is homosexual behaviour given a human right status, what other behaviours are treated in a similar way?

    1. There are nine protected characteristics (PCs) under the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity.

      However in practice it seems that sexual orientation trumps everything else in cases of conflict.

    2. There is more detail on the nine PCs here - http://bit.ly/10GQyjh

    3. Peter

      Thanks for that. It points to http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/part/2/chapter/1 which tells us that:

      12Sexual orientation

      (1)Sexual orientation means a person's sexual orientation towards—
      (a)persons of the same sex,
      (b)persons of the opposite sex, or
      (c)persons of either sex.

      (2)In relation to the protected characteristic of sexual orientation—
      (a)a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person who is of a particular sexual orientation;
      (b)a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who are of the same sexual orientation.

      Nothing there restricts 'orientation' to persons of the same sex nor, it seems, excludes paedophilia. Curiously it doesn't explain what is meant by orientation either.

    4. Well that would be par for the course. But it has certainly been interpreted and applied in this way in these two cases and in many others.

  3. These two cases are as clear as anything can be that there is discrimination against Christians.
    We should not be discouraged really because the Word says categorically that in the last days there will be all kinds of persecution. Roll on the second coming of our Lord and S
    aviour Jesus Christ!!

  4. Why is homosexuality the big issue? A counsellor at Relate would surely be required to be helping unmarried heterosexual couples with sexual issues as well. A biblically consistent position should be as clear about the sinfulness of any sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. I fear that Christians are quite reasonably accused of homophobia if they isolate a refusal to counsel homosexual couples whilst being willing to counsel unmarried heterosexual couples.

    1. I agree that all sexual activity outside marriage is morally wrong but the issue under discussion here is whether people should be forced to do things that they themselves believe are wrong, whatever their reasons might be.

    2. I'm not sure that's good enough, Peter. These two cases have been taken and publicised together, and the banner of "persecution of Christians" attached to both. But it seems to me that Lilian Ladele was exercising a consistent Christian sexual ethic, whereas if Gary Macfarlane was willing to counsel unmarried heterosexual couples (and my understanding is that he was - I'd be happy to be corrected on this point), he was definitely not.

      If you want, you can defend his right, and anyone's right, not to have to do things that they think are wrong, but at the moment it's being defended on the grounds that his view is Christian - and, if he was counselling unmarried heterosexual couples in how to have better sex, it was definitely not.

      Again, assuming I understand his situation correctly, it is deeply worrying to me that Christian Concern would take a case all the way to Europe for someone who is distinguishing gay/straight sexual relationships, rather than distinguishing godly/ungodly sexual relationships.


    3. Are you suggesting that only people with consistent Christian ethics should be able to exercise conscientious objection and that those who don't do not have right to be defended?

      I have already said above that I do not personally share McFarlane's views as I believe that all sex outside marriage is morally wrong. But that is not the point.

      The key think about conscientious objection is that it protects people from being forced to do things which *they personally* find morally unacceptable. That is the principle which is being defended here.

    4. Thank you for your response, Peter and for your support of my initial point, Gerv.

      I agree, Peter, that the principle of freedom to take a position of conscientious objection is important and has historically been a wonderful element of our democratic system. My concern is with the approach of Christian Concern and others who have launched legal actions (the bed&breakfast landlady who refused accommodation to a homosexual couple comes to mind).

      The prominence of homosexuality as the trigger point in these cases shouts homophobia when there is a conspicuous absence of a consistent biblical sexual ethic regardless of orientation. Missionally, it represents biblically-faithful Christians very poorly.

    5. I'm not sure I agree. I think the real reason no one is being prosecuted for discriminating against unmarried couples (and others) is because it is gay rights (and not rights of any other kind) that are held to trump all. Much of this is due to members of the gay rights lobby bringing vexatious complaints and targeting Christians.

      Christian Concern and others are only trying to defend people who are losing their jobs or otherwise having their rights undermined and I think they do great work.

      It is not of course that homosexual behaviour is worse than other sins but because this is the specific arena where Christians are being targeted and being discriminated against more than any other.

    6. On the contrary, as you yourself pointed out above with reference to the Relate counsellor, it is the narrow focus of Christians on homosexuality that is the problem, this particular man giving advice to unmarried heterosexuals but refusing homosexuals. Likewise, the bed&breakfast landlady had entertained countless unmarried heterosexual couples as paying guests but refused a homosexual couple.
      On a simple point of equality, Christians must either be consistent in applying a biblical sexual ethic or be willing to provide services to heterosexual and homosexual alike.

    7. Gerv, the question is, what do you mean by 'married'? There's an old Lollard (early Protestant) saying 'You don't need a priest to marry you, a union of hearts is enough'. I know a number of people who are 'married' in this sense'. Perhaps Gary MacFarlane takes that view?

      But I agree with Peter, the point isn't whether someone's views are consistent. The point of right to personal beliefs and conscientious objection is mainly to protect people from intrusive interrogation. For instance, we no longer drag Jews in front of the Inquisition to point out all the inconsistencies of their belief system and try to bully them into becoming Christians, even though Judaism is a minority viewpoint in all countries except Israel. This approach doesn't work to change people's minds, so what's the point?

      I don't entirely agree with Peter that it's a simple as Christians being targeted. I think it's a mixture of LGBT organised protection for their own, and the fact that a gay couple is more likely to genuinely feel upset and marginalised when they're refused a bed in a guest house. An unmarried heterosexual couple is more likely to think 'What a bunch of weirdos!' and not feel strongly enough to take it to court - they haven't experienced the same individual and collective memory of genuine persecution and rejection.

    8. Some people are homophobic, if that is how people insist upon describing disapproval of homosexuality. They're not hurting anybody. Maybe they're just born that way, although I think homophobia is something that people learn and choose myself. Get over it. Homophobia isn't a sin, is it?

      There is probably less chance of stamping out homophobia by persecuting those who practise it, than there is of stamping out homosexual behaviour, by persecuting those who practise that. Whatever happened to the live and let live liberal consensus?

  5. It is about time disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ started believing his words when it comes to encountering all manner of trouble for his names sake.
    Or is it a case that these people just have the morals that Jesus taught but do not have faith in him?
    Sad to say Ms Ladele et al should read Church history and see what real persecution and discrimination is towards believers and how they responded, they did not go whingeing to the courts, no they stood proud and declared the gospel.
    A good place to start may be Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrandt.

    1. I think they went to court to raise awareness of the issue and to help other people. I know of a number if cases where people have been turned down as foster parents or had children taken away from them who haven't done anything about it because, let's face it, going to court is stressful.

    2. "they did not go whingeing to the courts"

      So when you're a dad, who is being stopped from having contact with his two year-old son, because of "concerns" as to what might happen if he decided to be gay when he was fourteen, you're not supposed to take social services to court? Just let the boy do the suffering, growing up without a dad?

      The apostle Paul was often in court. Jesus exercised his right to silence in front of Pilate. But Paul's life sometimes bore resemblance to a courtroom drama TV series, like Rumpole of the Bailey.

  6. A medical question. Noone has pointed out the obvious argument in this 'debate' ? The medical fact the LBGTQ 'community' are not , medically , normal. IE: Klinefelter or Kallman's
    "Intersex people with Kallmann's Syndrome. It is a new website but offers a great opportunity for people with hypothalamic hypogonadism"
    Again evidenced here , “My body changed itself from boy to girl” , in the majority of LBGTQ cases it is an obvious medical problem , a hormone 'misadventure'? How and when did doctors decide those in the LBGTQ community are medically normal ? An intersexual person , normal ? That is where Christians have lost their ability to rally against the LBGTQ community , the fact an intelligent man cannot tell outright , an intersexual person , is an abnormal human , a medical misadventure.

  7. My employment rights are affected by Religion. I could be refused employment in a faith school even if I were not teaching RE for being an atheist.