- Being forbidden to wear a cross at work
- Being required to perform a public service without discriminating against gay people
Okay, it’s only a list of two. But apparently the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission thinks they’re alike in at least one important way: the people who fought against them should be supported in taking a legal case to the European Court of Human Rights.
I’m uneasy about this. I understand that part of the EHRC’s role is to support strategic legal cases in order to clarify the law, and I think the European Court of Human Rights is quite bad at protecting the religious freedoms of individuals (particularly the religious freedoms of women). Mrs Eweida was forbidden by British Airways from wearing a cross with her uniform, and she lost her case even though BA subsequently changed their policy to permit at least some religious symbols. That policy change alone suggests the reasons for banning cross-wearing weren’t really weighty enough to justify interference with religious freedom. (I don’t know what to say about the Chaplin case – I’ve no idea if there’s a genuine health and safety risk involved in a nurse wearing a necklace.)
But in McFarlane and Ladele, there’s another really important right at stake in a way it just isn’t in Eweida: McFarlane and Ladele both chose to do jobs which were about serving people in contexts to do with important and very personal areas of private life, respectively relationship counselling and acting as a Registrar of births, marriages and deaths. It seems to me absolutely correct that they should be required to deliver those services in line with the non-discrimination policies of the organisations for which they worked. I just don’t think the EHRC should be supporting them – especially when there are Christian legal organisations only too happy to step in (or, indeed, who may have prompted the cases in the first place).