The UK is “not in breach” of its human rights obligations on freedom of religion, the government has argued in response to four cases involving the rights of Christians due to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
Last summer it emerged that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had applied to intervene in the cases of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, who faced disciplinary action because of their desire to wear small crosses at work (see solicitorsjournal.com, 12 July 2011).
Two further cases to be heard with them at Strasbourg, those of Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, involve Christians who argued that their beliefs prevented them from providing services to gay people.
A spokesman for the Home Office said today that the UK had “submitted its position on these four applications to the European Court of Human Rights”.
He went on: “Our position is that UK law strikes the right balance between employees’ rights to express their beliefs at work and the requirements of employers.
“The Equality Act makes very clear that people have the right to express their views in a legitimate way, as long as they do not discriminate against a particular group or individual.
“Therefore the UK is not in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, as alleged by the applicants.”
John Wadham, group legal director at the EHRC, said the organisation was intervening in these cases to encourage judges to interpret the law more broadly and more clearly to the benefit of people who are religious and those who are not.
“The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades,” he said. “It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.”
An American organisation, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), said last year it had also obtained permission from the European Court of Human Rights to intervene in the cases.
Based in Arizona, ADF was founded in 1994 by a group of conservative Christian leaders and opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples.