August 22, 2011

Equality Commission backs down over religious rights reform

by Jan Harris

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has watered-down a campaign to support the rights of employees to uphold their religious beliefs in the workplace.

In July the commission said it would call on the European Court of Human Rights to introduce reforms ensuring that employers would make “reasonable adjustments” to allow workers to follow their religious beliefs.

It has now revealed on its website that it no longer intends to call for the “reasonable adjustments” principal to be introduced.

The commission has gained permission to intervene in four cases being heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Christians Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele, and Gary McFarlane are all bringing legal action against the UK because they believe that their right to freedom of religion has not been protected by UK laws.

Mrs Eweida, a check-in clerk at BA, and Mrs Chaplin, a nurse, were both banned from visibly wearing a cross at work.

While the commission’s support for public displays of faith of this type seems set to continue, the position over Miss Ladele’s and Mr McMcFarlanes cases is less clear cut.

Miss Ladele, a registrar at Islington town hall, and Mr McFarlane, a relationship therapist, both lost their jobs after refusing to provide their services to gay couples because of their religious beliefs.

The commission has now said that it believes the rulings against Miss Ladele and Mr McFarlane were “correct” and has launched a public consultation on all four cases.

The Commission’s change of heart has been criticised by Christian organisations, including the Evangelical Alliance and CARE.

However, the proposals had been met with alarm by Gay rights campaigners as they involved allowing employees to refuse to provide a public service to Gay couples.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said: “Our job is not to take sides in political arguments between activist groups, it is to make sure people do not face unjustified discrimination.”

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