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Christians call on Cameron to back “reasonable accommodation”

27 September 2011

Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, has called on the prime minister, an Anglican, to back two British Christians whose religious discrimination claims are due to be heard by the ECtHR at Strasbourg.

Earlier this month the National Secular Society slammed the Equality and Human Rights Commission for backing the four – Lillian Ladele, Gary McFarlane, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin (see 14 September 2011).

The latest intervention, by Lord Carey, relates only to the cases of McFarlane, a Relate counsellor who refused to advise gay couples on sexual issues, and Chaplin, a nurse banned from wearing a small crucifix on a chain.

“In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by state bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong,” Lord Carey said.

“Equality law has six prohibited grounds of discrimination: age, disability, race, religion, sex (including transgender status) and sexual orientation. All are of equal weight and standing and there is no hierarchy of rights between religious manifestation and sexual orientation.

“However, the courts of the United Kingdom have consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians. The correct approach is one of ‘reasonable accommodation’ of the practice and manifestation of religion; this should be by means of Article 9 and not by the use of equality/discrimination laws.”

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, said ‘reasonable accommodation’ should include both expression and manifestation of belief.

“Thus a registrar refusing to officiate at a civil partnership because of religious belief would qualify because other registrars would be able to officiate and the delivery of a service would not be unduly hindered.

“Similarly, a counsellor refusing counselling on the sexual life-style of same-sex couples would fall within the criteria for reasonable accommodation as there are other counsellors, even in the same agencies, who could deliver the service. “Attention to both aspects of the provision would ensure respect for conscience and the delivery of a service required by law.”

A spokeswoman for Christian Concern added that 150,000 postcards had been sent to David Cameron over the past four weeks calling on him to support McFarlane and Chaplin.

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