Fri 24th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 24th Oct 2014 at 08:58am

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

Cameron said he would legislate to protect religious rights at work: so why did his lawyers in Strasbourg this week deny the existence of these rights?

This is one promise Cameron has to be held to

By on Friday, 7 September 2012

'The kind of liberal conservatism David Cameron espouses is a mishmash of the good and bad, and is completely divorced from Christian spirituality' (PA)

'The kind of liberal conservatism David Cameron espouses is a mishmash of the good and bad, and is completely divorced from Christian spirituality' (PA)

The mills of European justice grind exceeding slow, in Strasbourg at least; but the by now well-known test cases of four Christians whose rights freely to practise the Christian religion are being challenged by this government (three of them have actually lost their jobs for sticking by their faith) have now been heard, together, by the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg. Judgment will be handed down at a later date; how much later remains to be seen; this could go on for some time.

Let there be no doubt about what is going on; forget what Cameron has said about backing the rights of Christians, and legislating to protect them (yet another promise which has not been and probably will not be kept). The British government has actually argued in this case, through its lawyers (who were presumably arguing what they were told to argue) that Christians should leave their beliefs at home or get another job if their employers don’t like them.

Christians should accept, government lawyers have actually pronounced in open court, that a personal expression of faith at work, such as wearing a cross, means they might have to resign and get another job: there was, they argued, a “difference between the professional and private sphere. That simply means that the government says that Christians may not fully practice their faith at all (since we believe that there should never be any such separation, that there is no moment of our lives to which our faith is not relevant). This, these expensive QCs argued on the government’s behalf, despite Cameron’s promise that he would change the law “to protect religious expression at work”.

This is what, according to the Telegraph, his lawyers (I repeat, his lawyers) said. James Eadie QC, told the court that the refusal to allow an NHS nurse and a British Airways worker to visibly wear a crucifix at work “did not prevent either of them practising religion in private”, which would be protected by human rights law. He argued that a Christian facing problems at work with religious expression needed to consider their position and that they were not discriminated against if they still have the choice of leaving their job and finding new employment (my italics).

“There are,” he went on, “two aspects to this part of the argument. Firstly, resigning and moving to another job and secondly (actually, not secondly at all, he’s simply repeating the same argument because he has no other) there is clear and consistent jurisprudence that the person who asserts religious rights may on occasion have to take account of their position”.

“There is a difference,” he went on, “between the professional sphere where your religious freedoms necessarily abut on to and confront other interests and the private sphere. The employees concerned could indeed pursue all the generally recognised manifestations of their religion outside the work sphere.”

He then went on to expound a familiar argument, one that always intensely irritates me because of its total ignorance of how religion actually functions. The argument is that it doesn’t say in the Bible that women should wear a cross at work (duh!!) so it’s not required by their religion. Unlike the Muslim headscarf for women (actually, he’s wrong about that too), wearing a cross is not a “generally recognised” act of Christian worship and is not required by scripture. “A great many Christians do not insist on wearing crosses at all, still less visibly,” he said. So? A great many Muslim women don’t insist on wearing a hijab, either. As for “required by scripture”, there are whole areas of Christian moral behaviour which isn’t in the nature of things actually specified in the biblical texts; that’s not how scripture works (not Christian scripture, anyhow). The Bible isn’t, as someone once put it, “maker’s instructions”. The depressing things about this man’s legal arguments is their utter superficiality, the way in which they simply miss the whole point, not just about Christianity but about any religion.

Consider some of the injustices the court considered on Tuesday.

Shirley Chaplin was moved away from nursing to a clerical role by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust in Devon after refusing to remove a necklace bearing a crucifix. She was subsequently fired, after 30 years of nursing. “It is insulting, humiliating and degrading,” she protests. “My Christian faith isn’t something that you put on and then take off to go to work”.

There is also the case of the Relate therapist who lost his job for saying, though not to his employer (who simply happened to hear of the conversation at third hand), that he might not be comfortable giving sex counselling to homosexuals. Gary McFarlane, a Bristol marriage counsellor, was sacked because his employer, who was already suspicious because of his open Christianity, learned that he had privately expressed his reluctance to give “sex therapy” to homosexual couples. Reluctance!! “Sex therapy”!! Ye Gods!! Of course he was reluctant.

Finally, there is the case of the Christian registrar who refuses to effect civil partnerships. Lillian Ladele, a registrar in Islington, was dismissed after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies on religious grounds. Dinah Rose, her QC, said the government’s argument that an employer could discriminate against someone because of their religious opinions as long as the employee was able to leave their job and find another one elsewhere was “startling”, and argued, surely unanswerably, that “an employer could have a policy of refusing to employ Jews because other employers will employ them”. Quite.

There has been support from some MPs for these people, but not enough. Most notably, David Davis (who seems for a politician to have been talking a great deal of common sense lately, mostly implicitly or explicitly critical of the Prime Minister) said he expected Mr Cameron to stick to his recent promises to protect religious rights. “The idea that British citizens are not free to express their faith in the workplace is an extraordinary and oppressive interpretation of the law,” he said. “The Prime Minister made it plain in the House of Commons that the Government believes the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace is a vital freedom. One therefore has to ask why the Government’s lawyers are the last to know.”

When this case had been raised in the Commons by Mr Davis in July, the Prime Minister was quite unambiguous in his support for the right to wear religious symbols at work. He said this: “I think it is an absolutely vital freedom“. He insisted that the Government would change the law if necessary to make sure employees can wear religious symbols at work. “What we will do,” he said, “is that if it turns out that the law has the intention of banning the display of religious symbols in the workplace, as has come out in this case, then we will change the law and make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work”. Note those words “what we will do”: so why doesn’t he do it? And why has he sent his laywers to Strasbourg, to oppose these four Christians rather than supporting them (or just staying out of the way)?

These are not rhetorical questions; I really would like an answer to them. There must be one. Did he mean what he said? If not, why say it, so clearly and unambiguously? He could easily have slithered out of any such commitment; Heaven knows, he’s done that often enough. Does anyone out there actually know the answer? Can anyone explain? Anyone? Me, I’m stumped.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Because like all the mediocrities who pass for “Statesmen” in our fast-declining West, he is a snake oil salesman with no moral principles or scruples at all. And I speak as one who detests socialism with all his heart. 

  • Nicolas Bellord

    These cases you mention are really not very important – they just affect small people.  What you must understand about religion is that some of their followers have ideas about morality and ethics.  Whilst this is okay in the home (generally speaking but we need to keep an eye on the situation) it would be immensely damaging if they were to bring these ideas into the financial world inhabited by the likes of Cameron.  Just suppose these people were to have a real influence to prevent usury, gambling, lying, cheating and defrauding in the Financial Services.  Do you not understand that retiring Ministers might not get the kind of lucrative job advising a bank if they had allowed religion to have any influence on their conduct?

  • awkwardcustomer

    David Cameron represents the new breed of Conservative.  Remember how he began by announcing himself as ‘the heir to Blair’.  Then he set about updating his party by marginalising his more traditional constituency and filling the party ranks with a new breed of ‘Conservative’.  By and large, these people do not want to be bound by the restrictions, as they see it, of Christian morality.  They may be Tories, but they too want their easy divorces and liberated lifestyles. The days of the Anglican Church being ‘the Conservative party at prayer’ are over.  The new Conservatives want all the sexual freedoms they can get.  There is no difference between new Labour and new Conservative in this respect.  They both want to be liberated from the old constraints.  Yes, they still differ in their economic and foreign policies, to some degree at least.  But the new Conservatives are not going to protect Christianity in this country because it is anathema to them. 

    Things can only get worse.  Anyone know of any catacombs going cheap?

  • Gildaswiseman

    once read, whether is it true or not I cannot say, that like Obama,
    Cameron was an admirer of Saul Alinsky. The American
    community organizer and  author. In his book
    ‘Rules for Radicals’ which he dedicated to Lucifer, ‘the first
    radical’, he advises one to achieve a political outcome by any means
    fair or foul. This includes Lying, promising one thing and reneging
    upon it. Could this be the answer you are looking for?

  • Anon

    This present Gov claims the prerogative of defining who and who is not the subject of rights,consequently think they have the right to violate the fundamental right of others.This contradicts the democratic ideal that Cameron claims he believes in.He is imperils the very basis of our society. Freedom to choose our faith,freedom to decide over good v evil.In the European constitution (article 52)we were told this guaranteed rights to the  Christian Churches and protection of it`s people.Today we witness violation of those rights we were giving from the E.U.Now we see instead the Church  and peoples are assigned  to a place where we are not permitted a voice or aloud to have any impact on society or it`s law. Meantime, Cameron goes to Strasbourg  to make up  those new laws that resemble laws of the jungle.Clearly he is stating “you will soon be no longer permitted to show your faith in public.This is just a cynical way of getting a message across,allowing us to see what they are up to( through the media )   I would like to be proven wronged in my view of what we are witnessing today with Our Christian Heritage in Britain.Somehow.with the aggressive handling they have enforced on Christians, in the workforce especially,I doubt it.

  • la catholic state

    Why didn’t Cameron etc, and all those bosses that ban the wearing of the Holy Cross, just say that they don’t like Christianity, Christians….or to take it to its final conclusion….they don’t much like Christ either.  Beneath all the legal jargon and excuses….that is what is driving this.

    Western Europe is now deeply anti-Christian…..and pro-Islam.  Time to watch out.  In the meantime,  I hope the EU throws out Cameron’s case….even if it is for purely political reasons  Also…the thought has to be entertained….that Cameron and all the post-Christian brigade just don’t have too much respect for telling the truth anymore.  They have freed themselves from every other of the 10 Commandments….why not this one.

  • teigitur

    Dr Oddie, just how niave are you? Mr Cameron is a politician, therefore has a very difficult time keeping promises, and a very tenuous relationship with the truth.

  • whytheworldisending

    Banning badges evidencing one’s homosexuality does not prevent homosexuals practicing their homosexual acts in private, but I haven’t yet heard of a homosexual being told to remove any such symbol or face the sack. The rule of law is undermined if people are not treated equally under the law. Now if the expression of faith and non faith positions is to be limited in public, then it is necessary in a democratic society – for the maintenance of law and order – to outlaw expressions of atheism and hedonism. That means no open displays of adultery, homosexuality, or other forms of promiscuity, and symbols or badges supporting such lifestyle choices, because they are at bottom, expressions of atheism, or more to the point anti-christianism. Gay rights and their like are just as surely offensive to christians and muslims as anti-semitism is to jews (and all right thinking people) so lets bring our laws in line with the position we shared when the Treaty of London was drawn up at the end of the holocaust. Lets restore some common decency before we end up back where we were before the Human Rights Convention came into being.

  • Meena

    It was done in the nurse case for reasons of hygiene: no jewellery allowed. The nurse was given the option of wearing a Christian cross stitched visibly onto her uniform.
    In the other cases the people concerned had themselves already undertaken not to wear things, such as the Christian cross, on their uniforms.  

    As regards Mr Cameron’s remarks, I believe he might say that he has been quoted out of context. It is nearly always an easy matter to cherry-pick “sound-bites” from longer statements or speeches in order to support a particular view.

    This is particularly so where the restless sea of politics is involved. 

  • Meena

    It was done in the nurse case for reasons of hygiene: no jewellery allowed. The nurse was given the option of wearing a Christian cross stitched visibly onto her uniform.
    In the other cases the people concerned had themselves already undertaken not to wear things, such as the Christian cross, on their uniforms. 

  • la catholic state

    I don’t know about these individual cases so I can’t take your word for it I’m afraid.  But I do know that in spite of health and safety concerns….female Muslim doctors can wear their sleeves down to cover their arms according to their religious beliefs.  So!

    In my opinion, it is all a reaction against the person of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ and His followers. Nothing unusual in that….it has occured throughout history and Christ Himself predicted it.  But why don’t people just own up and admit it?!

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Meena:  So what is it that David Cameron did NOT say?  Or perhaps what is it that has been quoted out of context so that he did not mean what Dr Oddie thinks he meant?

  • South Saxon

    What else can one expect from a prime minister who describes himself as “vaguely practising”, whatever that means. In my book, one is either a Christian or not and Cameron’s cynical remark “Britain is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so” is pure political opportunism. The man has no moral principles.

  • Thanks

    Article 18

    “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,conscience and religion…and freedom…in public…to manifest his religion…in teaching,practice,worship and observance.”

    UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

  • whytheworldisending

    Why doesn’t Cameron grow a moustache? Think about it.

  • Meena

    female Muslim doctors can wear their sleeves down to cover their arms according to their religious beliefs.  So!”

    This is a teaching of their faith. There is no similarly strongly held teaching of Christianity which requires the wearing of a piece of jewellery with a cross. The nurse was told she could wear a stitched-on cross, but declined to do so.  

    “But why don’t people just own up and admit it?!”

    Because your claim is untrue. 
    Would you like to be treated in hospital with a member of the “One and Only True Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM)” wearing a bunch of fake spaghetti in the shape of the divine FSM?  

  • Meena

    I suggest you do your own homework. [A link or links to government and Cameron statements could have been provided.]

    I’m sure that you are as aware as I am that selected sentences extracted from speeches or statements can be very misleading.

    However I carry no torch for right-wing politicians. If Oddie can dissuade some Catholics from voting Tory in a couple of years then so much the better. 

  • Meena

    Yet you and Oddie are doing your best to ensure a Socialist government in this country in a little over 2 years’ time.

    Keep it up!

    (Sadly, I believe you may be fast-peddling the other way in 2015) 

  • JabbaPapa

    There is no similarly strongly held teaching of Christianity which requires the wearing of a piece of jewellery with a cross

    This is not true.

    Tradition which is over 1500 years old constitutes strongly held teaching.

    You are confusing Protestantism in particular with Christianity in general.

  • Zimbalist

    These people are victims (not the right type of “victim” of course for the prevailing ideology) of the totalitarian “equality” and “tolerance” that has been foisted upon all of us……expect more of the same in the future.

  • la catholic state

    So you are saying that a supposed teaching of their faith comes before health and safety concerns….in a hopsital!  Well that just about says everything.  I am not even sure it is a requirement of the Muslim faith.  Does it clearly say in the Koran that arms must be covered?!

    I stick by my claim…..and I want someone with integrity to admit it.  Why don’t you for a start.  Like everyone else you are quick to defend Muslim practises (even though I believe you are an atheist)….but you will on no account give in to the request of Christians to display the Crucifix.  Go on, admit your dislike of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ.  Amazing how someone (an ‘ordinary’ person who may not even have existed according to secularists) can elicit such an extreme reaction even 2.000 years later.  Truly an amazing person.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Agree totally.  But one thing puzzles me.  Why is it that Atheists and Liberals always rush to defend Moslems but relish attacking Christians whenever they can?  My suspicion is that, since Atheists and Liberals are determined to dismantle the last remnants of Christian influence on the culture of the West, they see Moslems in the West as a marginalised group which can be used to attack that culture. 

    Sounds like Cultural Marxism to me, you know, identifying marginalised groups – women, gays, black people – and promoting their causes to attack the establishment.  It used to be the working class, but in the West that particular group has failed to live up to its calling as the instrument of the Revolution. 

    They’d better be careful though.  Because when everything descends into chaos, they might find that they are dealing with Moslems who view Atheists and Liberals, too, as infidels.

  • Michael Petek

    I’ve studied the case documents. I predict that Eweida and McFarlane will be declared inadmissible, as the acts they complain of were not committed by the United Kingdom under tha law of state responsibility. Ladele and Chaplin should win, as they were public employees. Ms Ladele was allowed informally to swap places with her colleagues so that she didn’t have to do civil partnerships. It was only when two of her homosexual colleagues complained that action was taken. Ms Chaplin should win, as the health and safety objections to her wearing a cross are specious excuses, and because her employer didn’t even try the option of reasonable accommodation.

  • Anon

     Check out the photo in article…..think he is about to expose his any time

  • Acleron

    Always rush to defend moslems?

    Not at all, I have no more respect for their stone age beliefs than yours.

  • Acleron

    Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid!. Yes how terrible, after all they might be run like the Vatican Bank.

  • JabbaPapa

    You falsely assume that principals of Case Law must necessarily be applicable to Constitutional questions.

  • Parasum

    “So you are saying that a supposed teaching of their faith comes before
    health and safety concerns….in a hopsital!  So now health is secondary
    in the NHS.”

    ## No, not “comes before comes before
    health and safety concerns”, but, “is compatible with [health and safety concerns]“.

    The NHS is interested in health, not religion. If from a religious motive an employee wears something that could be a cause of ill-health, to forbid the wearing of that something is entirely reasonable. If something different is done or worn by an employee that is not incompatible with the health of the patients, that too is reasonable.

    Visible symbols are far less important than what they symbolise. The Crucifix is a visible reminder of the Love of God – is the NHS preventing Christians from acting in accord with the Love of God the Crucifix stands for ? By doing their job as medical staff to the best of their ability, they are obeying the Love the Crucifix symbolises. But what is the good of the visible symbol, if the wearer does not live what it symbolises ? We can’t afford to get hung up on externals.

    So far, STM that Meena has the best of the argument.

  • Ghengis

    Whichever humans have the most power are the ones that rule; Democracy
    is an illusion. Modern man works 70% of his week to be able to survive
    to enjoy the remaining 30%. It is foolish to try to create a heaven on
    earth; we must strive simply to create as just a society as possible and
    that requires courage and power. The liberals have the power because
    they control the media and the schools. If you want a change in that
    then diminish their power over the media and schools. Otherwise they
    will always win.

  • Parasum

     Because Christians can – or should be able to – stand up for themselves ? Christianity in the UK is the culture “in possession”; Islam OTOH is a relative newcomer to this country. Muslims are more in need of defence in the UK than the theoretically Christian majority. If Christianity is at a low ebb in the UK, is that the fault of Islam ?  It’s ours, for doing such a poor job of living what we profess to believe. We have to learn to stop blaming others for our weaknesses. The is no end of stuff about which atheists can complain against Christians. However morally weak their position may be, that does not make Christianity whiter than snow.

    Besides, God’s Love for us is unconditional – so ours for others has to be. What Muslims “might do” to us, can’t be a consideration; otherwise we will find reasons not to love our Muslim neighbours -  but we don’t have that option.

  • Cestius

    As Mr. Oddie says, the arguments against the Christians are incredibly superficial. The ban on tiny crosses is ridiculous and petty when “in your face” symbols like the Muslim hijab are allowed.  And surely neither employers nor the government have any right or competence to decide which symbols are compulsory or not when even members of that faith may not always agree among themselves. If there is a genuine health and safety concern, that is another matter, but in many of these cases that doesn’t seem to be applicable.

    Likewise with the case of the registrar and the marriage guidance counselor, surely it would better even for the homosexual couples wanting to be advised or have their civil partnership ceremony to have somebody specialized that genuinely wanted to do it rather than someone under duress and possibly lacking the skills or understanding (in the case of “marital” problems in the civil partnership.)   It seems to me  ridiculous, vindictive and petty to try to force someone to do it against conscience, particularly when other arrangements which would probably be better  for all concerned could easily be made.

  • JabbaPapa

    Right, and never mind that the religious symbols of some other religions and sects of atheism are not just authorised, but positively welcomed — whereas those of Christianity are forbidden.

  • JabbaPapa

    You are gravely confusing worldly affairs with spiritual ones — the purpose of the Church is to offer unconditional love and worship to God.

    And none of your political rubbish !!!

  • awkwardcustomer

    You said, ‘…Christianity in the UK is the culture “in possession”….’

    I can’t believe you think that.  The culture “in possession” in the UK is profoundly anti-Christian and is getting more so by the day. 

  • awkwardcustomer

    Then why bother coming here?  Or can’t you resist hurling insults?

    At any rate, your comment shows a deep prejudice against the peoples of the stone age.  So tolerant!

  • Acleron

    To correct, at least a small number, of the wrong facts you fling about atheists.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Meanwhile, you are confirming every opinion I have about Atheists.

  • awkwardcustomer

    I wouldn’t mind in the slightest.

  • Acleron

    Your opinions are yours. You do not possess the facts.

  • JabbaPapa

    Come to think of it, nor would I.

  • JabbaPapa

    Facts, by definition, cannot be wrong.

  • JabbaPapa

    Who cares ?

    We’ll just send out the elite cadre of Sky Fairy worshiping albino monks to clean out all the secret Illuminati evidence that God doesn’t exist…

  • awkwardcustomer

    You must think I’ve never met an Atheist in my life.  Or had a conversation with one. And how do you know what facts I possess?  You are simply making assumptions based on your own prejudices.  Again, very tolerant. 

  • Hercules Han

     There is no correlation between jewelery and lack of hygiene. Why would jewelery be any less hygienic than anything else one wears such as glasses, hair pins, clothes, gloves, etc..

    That argument is fake and you should know better than to waste our time with it..

  • Acleron


  • Acleron

    You will have met far more atheists than you know of. 

    But to try to score a debating point that atheists do not criticise muslims shows at the least you have not listened.

  • la catholic state

    Wrong.  Ideological concerns are now the primary concern of the NHS….even above health and safety.  Fine if these don’t clash….but if they do…ideological concerns win.  That is why the NHS is now second rate.

    We are instructed not to hide our light under a bushel….but some people fear and loathe this Light!  It’s a supernatural phenomenon.

  • la catholic state

    What you really mean is let’s eventually snuff out Christianity and replace it with any other religion (Islam will do).  But of course you hide this agenda under a mantle of extraordinary and far-fetched concern for minority religions.

    Why don’t you just admit your antipathy to Christ and His followers?!

  • la catholic state

    Some atheists do indeed dislike all religions….but as we can see….most atheists harbour a dislike only for the One True Faith.  This can only have a supernatural explaination.

  • Acleron

    Any evidence for that?