In just a few weeks on September 4th, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear arguments for four cases regarding discrimination against Christians in the United Kingdom. Over the past several years, Christians in the UK have faced an alarming growth of intolerance whenever their faith collides with the “public interest.” A recent report entitled Clearing the Ground put out by a committee of Christian Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers found that freedom for Christians has significantly diminished due largely to the Equality Act of 2010 and the Public Order Act.
The committee emphasized that Christians in the UK are not persecuted, but some have experienced some constriction of freedom, particularly in the workplace. Two cases to be heard by the ECHR arose because the plaintiffs wore small cross necklaces in the workplace. In one case, Nadia Eweida was told by her employer, British Airways to remove or conceal her necklace or be dismissed without pay. She refused to comply, and was consequently dismissed for several months until the airline reversed its policy on displaying religious symbols. After the policy reversal, Ms. Eweida went back to work, but British Airways refused to compensate her for lost earnings. British courts have ruled against Ms. Eweida, and her case will be heard by the ECHR in September.
Another case involves a Christian man named Gary McFarlane who works as a counselor. When he expressed hesitation about providing counseling for same-sex couples, his employer told him he would violate the counseling center’s “Equal Opportunity Policies” if he refused to work with such couples. Mr. McFarlane was let go, and has since pursued legal action without success.
Other reported incidents include bed and breakfast owners who denied a shared room to a homosexual couple, a shop owner who displayed a publicly visible Bible passage that was deemed offensive to gay people, a registrar who conscientiously objected to facilitating a same-sex civil union, among others.
If the ECHR rules in favor of the Christians, it could mean Britain’s Equality Act and other “diversity legislation” are overturned or altered significantly, allowing Christians to live according to their faith in the public sphere. The ECHR is certainly no bastion of Christian moral virtue, but last year it did protect the practice of displaying crosses in Italian public schools.
These cases are unique, but generally representative of the loss of freedom Christians are experiencing in the UK. Clearing the Ground speculates that much of the discrimination is due to public illiteracy about Christianity. The committee writes: “[I]n a society that does not adequately understand the nature of Christian belief, legal difficulties will inevitably arise because of the non-mandatory nature of Christian activity.” Because some religions, such as Islam or Judaism require adherents to wear certain clothing or symbols and the Christian faith allows for more variation, often allowances are not made for Christians where they would be for others. Religious illiteracy is undoubtedly partly to blame, but that explanation seems a bit too charitable.
The Equality Act of 2010 consolidated all of Great Britain’s anti-discrimination laws, and added more protected demographic categories, including sexual orientation. The report states: “Critically, early indications from court judgments are that sexual orientation takes precedence and religious belief is required to adapt in the light of this.”
Britain’s Orwellian “Equality and Human Rights Commission” has been involved in many of these religious liberty cases. The EHRC claims to “promote and monitor human rights; and to protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine ‘protected’ grounds – age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.”
The EHRC’s slogan is “Creating a fairer Britain,” and in a recent report on public acceptance of homosexuality, they stated one of their goals is to “Encourage debate on relationships between sexual orientation and religion and how perceived tensions can be resolved in everyday life.” The agenda to establish absolute fairness and equality is doomed to fail. Although the EHRC claims to protect religious belief equally, often Christian beliefs are only recognized as valid when they are kept private.
The trend in Britain, the US, and elsewhere across the Western world shows that contrary to the purported goal, everyone’s beliefs, opinions, and lifestyles will not be tolerated. Instead, Christian teachings on sexual ethics and other issues are classified as “discriminatory,” ultimately resulting in a sad irony where Christians lose their jobs and are taken to court for simply living by the faith that established “human rights” in the first place.