The European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France has ruled that religious beliefs cannot be used to justify discriminating against gay people.

The court dealt with four cases centred on the issue of religious freedom in the workplace involving four applicants from the UK who are practising Christians.

In one case, a therapist, Gary McFarlane was fired after he refused to give counselling to same-sex couples.

In another, Islington Council registrar Lilian Ladele was disciplined after she refused to officiate civil partnerships between gay couples.

The applicants both claimed that they took these positions because doing otherwise would have violated their religious values and that they were unfairly discriminated against due to their Christian beliefs

Courts in the UK upheld the disciplinary actions taken against McFarlane and Ladele, leading them to take their complaints to the European Court of Human Rights. There, they argued that their employers were in contravention of articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect religious freedom.

The court, however, ruled again them on Tuesday, stating that “in each case the employer was pursuing a policy of non-discrimination against service-users, and the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation was also protected under the Convention.”

It said that their employers had struck “the right balance” between securing “the rights of others and the applicants’ right to manifest their religion”.

The two other cases involved employees who had been forbidden from wearing their crosses visibly at work.

The court found that Nadia Eweida had indeed been discriminated against by her employer British Airways, ruling that her religious beliefs trumped its desire to portray a particular corporate image.

The UK government was ordered to pay Eweida 2,000 Euros in damages and 30,000 Euros for costs and expenses.

The court ruled against the final applicant, nurse Shirley Chaplin, saying that her employer was justified in barring her from wearing necklaces with a cross due to safety concerns in the hospital ward.

The three applicants who failed in their cases intend to appeal the court’s rulings.

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