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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.

  • JabbaPapa

    The fact that he’s not Catholic doesn’t make him non-Christian, you know …

  • Acleron

    You are the one in the ‘believing without evidence’ business, not me.

     I can just leisurely stroll through evidence such as child mortality, purchasing power, life expectancy, house ownership and universal education. 

  • Acleron

    Tut, tut, expressing your ignorance again.

  • JabbaPapa

    You are the one in the ‘believing without evidence’ business, not me.

    Not only are you devoid of any evidence to support the truth of this statement, but from me to you it is utterly false.

    1) I systematically require evidence, of whatever nature, before I will consider the truth or falsehood of these or those proposals — and for my sins, I have seen just such

    2) Your above statement is an evidence-free belief that you have just stated — disproving its own truth by virtue of its own paradox

  • JabbaPapa

    Contemporary “education” generally provides the exact opposite — and instead leads to the indoctrination of young people to believe in nothing other than self-gratification, denial of the very nature of Culture, denial of any form of Metaphysics except for determinism or nominalist materialism, ignorance of History, inability to read in anything like an independent critical manner, total absence of either ethics or morals, and an obsessive fixation on material wealth for themselves to the exclusion of everything and anything else.

  • JabbaPapa

    Meena and Acleron have the exact same modus operandi as Anti Molly and Pholas.

    Sockpuppets ???

  • JabbaPapa

    NuAtheism has virtually every characteristic of what constitutes a religion in the anthropological sense of the word — and even a dogmatically-informed theory of God.

  • Meena

    For your information ”
    Stalin’s bullies, the Nazi death squads, and the Khmer Rouge” have thankfully passed away.
    China is still a problem in some respects; and North Korea is a lunatic religious state. 
    The Head of State of North Korea is dead – but he is still Head of State. They too have a 66% Supernatural Trinity: the present (living) chap, the (dead) Dear Leader and the (also dead) Great Leader – the latter being the official Head of State!

    But in several places elsewhere there is violent oppression of religious minorities by religious majorities.
    As mentioned above, this was the case in several places in Europe some time ago (and also very recently in the former Yugoslavia), when a Christian majority oppressed and murdered a non-Christian minority. 

  • TreenonPoet

     I cannot find a single report that says that Nurse Shirley Chaplin offered to hide the cross under her clothing, though I have read reports that say that she refused to hide the cross because to hide her faith would be “disrespectful” (to whom, I wonder). Can you provide a link please?

  • TreenonPoet

     The hazards presented by necklaces and bracelets are obviously different.

    Also, why do you deliberately phrase your comment as if it was a matter of discriminating between religions? The necklace rule did not just apply to Christians, nor just to crosses or crucifixes.

  • Meena

    You seem to have inadvertently omitted the pleasure of having sugar in one’s tea – the dangers of which were only recently drawn to our attention by an article on the CH website.

    But (both more, and very, seriously) I believe you misjudge the modern world, including the great majority of modern youth.

  • Acleron

    When asked for evidence in any deity that you profess to believe in, you have none. All you can do is mumble around in the laughable metaphysics which you barely understand.

  • Meena

    There is no need for an open wound for serious infections to be transmitted.

    Many inpatients have had operations and closed wounds are still at risk.

    NO jewellery save a ring or two is usually allowed – and that often must be covered or hidden.

  • Meena

    Please don’t be silly.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Because the Crucifix is the only religious symbol that has been banned!  Exemptions have been made for the symbols of all other religions.

    And in the spread of the deadly MSRA bug…..bracelets pose a much greater health hazard than necklaces as they are more likely to come into contact with the patient.

  • Acleron

    Well most of that is obvious nonsense, but the bit about metaphysics is particularly amusing. Just what has the study of metaphysics ever achieved? 

  • Meena

    No it was not her suggestion.

    Her NHS managers suggested this and SHE rejected it.
    I googled this:

    “11 Mar 2012 – Mrs Eweida, a British Airways check-in clerk, was suspended from work in … refused to remove or hide the cross she wore on her necklace chain. … the right to manifest belief – have been rejected by British courts. … is there any suggestionthat the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix ….”

  • Meena

    You sometimes (at least sometimes) just make it up.
    Please see my second reply here.

  • Acleron

    And now we have the accusation without evidence. Jabba, you are such an unintelligent example of a theist, I often wonder if you are a PoeBot sent out to discredit your religion.

  • Acleron

    Atheism has no organisation, no high priests, no beliefs. Only an idiot would call it a religion.

  • Meena

    Yes, just so.

    He only has to google this and see the contemporaneous reports in all the national newspapers from the Sun to the Telegraph and The Times.

    He often invents so-called facts.

  • Meena

    But this is quite untrue. The Catholic Church has not made it a condition of being a catholic, and you know that as well as I do.

  • Meena

    I read a comment here, from a Catholic some time ago, which suggested the same thing.

  • Emma07

    When i was at college, the Muslim community were allowed a Prayer Room for Ramadan, but when myself and the only other Christian asked if we could have a Prayer Room for Holy Week, we were told that it was a secular college and no faith (except clearly Muslims) could openly express their faith.  however, when i threatened to go the the local paper, oddly we were allowed our prayer room AND interestingly some of the Muslim community supported us and felt they’d been favoured unfairly.  it happens all the time and will get worse – like one of the previous posts said – head for the Catacombs folks.  Trouble is we all stick our heads in the sand and pretend its not happening after all this is Britain, that sort of thing only happens elsewhere doesn’t it?

  • Acleron

    You should have gone to the papers anyway.

  • scary goat

    Who said anything about not having educated people? Catholic schools generally provide a better education than state schools. We were talking about liberals controlling schools and media.  Why do you twist what was said? 

  • TreenonPoet

     It is not true that the crucifix is the only religious symbol that has been banned. If necklaces are banned, then that includes necklaces bearing the symbol of any religion, just as it would include necklaces bearing the atheist A. Therefore it is clear in this case that Christianity is not being separated out for discrimination. But the same would apply if only Christians wore necklaces…

    If the NHS became aware of a safety hazard that could result from patients grasping dangling jewelery, it would have been their duty to act. Since it is not an essential requirement of Christianity that crosses or crucifixes be worn (how could it be?), it is understandable that it might not even have occurred to the NHS that a ban on necklaces would present Christians with a problem. Once the ‘problem’ had been identified, what should the NHS have done – make an exception for Christians in defiance of Health and Safety legislation? Of course not. They should, and did, try to reach a reasonable compromise.

    Shirley Chaplin refused to compromise, and in doing so revealed that she is no true Christian. Yet the Christian Institute and others assert persecution of Christians! And when she loses her case in court, it is pointed to as further evidence of the persecution of Christians – and worse, the corruption of judges (despite the publication of their reasoned judgements), and even of the Government (as if nothing short of a Christian theocracy will suffice)!

  • Acleron

    People are taught to think for themselves and to reject any claims that cannot be proven. Personally I think, there isn’t enough of it taught and we have much further to go to make our society truly liberal in outlook. So instead of trying to work out how to ‘reduce their power’, argue the case of why you think this is wrong. Produce your arguments in public and go for election so you can make the changes if you can.

    As to the education in catholic schools, they may indeed get better exam results, but your purely materialistic approach to this is at a cost of indoctrinating children with beliefs which are not conducive to tolerance with others. That is not education.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     ‘I am actually looking for information’
    What information are you actually looking for?
    Are you using this site for research?
     Is the research part of a study?
    If the answer to the last question is ‘Yes” is the study supported at the university level?

  • JabbaPapa

    10/10 for your ability to miss a simple point anyway !!!

    (must be all those extra brains swelling out of your eye sockets and obscuring your vision)

  • JabbaPapa

    Your ignorance about my personal experiences during my life is invincible.

    This does not prevent you from making fact-free and evidence-free assertions about me — Mister “Evidence-Based” Person.

    I am not responsible for your personal decisions as regards the veracity or not of evidence provided ; make up your own silly mind !!!

    (and that’s actually Metaphysics that YOU do not understand — try and keep up !!!)

  • JabbaPapa

    Why do you twist what was said?

    Mainly because he’s so obviously incapable of any kind of self-critical methodology.

  • JabbaPapa

    Believe whatever ill-educated rubbish you like.

  • Meena

    Yes it was outrageous that you were initially denied your room.

    It is quite normal for colleges and universities to have their RC and Anglican chaplaincies. Possibly some jobsworth acting out of line(?).

    Don’t head for the catacombs – speak your mind!

  • Meena

    I trust this gruesome comment will be quickly removed.

    Have just noticed another innocent remark receiving this treatment (not one of mine).

    PS:    On Sunday afternoons/evenings (particularly evenings) the censor seems unusually selective and rather fierce.

  • JabbaPapa

    How exactly is “a British Airways check-in clerk” a Nurse at the NHS ??????

    And you say you did “History” ?????!!!??????!!!!!!!!!

    And that you’re here looking for “facts” ???

    Your grotesque incompetence pours nothing but shame on the University that you claim to have attended ….

  • JabbaPapa

    He often invents so-called facts.

    Your incompetence is utterly appalling !!!!

  • Meena

    “”Catholic schools generally provide a better education than state schools. ”

    Oh no they don’t!

    They are socially selective. Your own Archbishop in London is trying, against enormous middle-class vested interests, to resolve this disgraceful situation.

  • JabbaPapa

    Propaganda.

  • JabbaPapa

    Right, and let’s all pretend that nobody at all has seen your double standards then.

  • Meena

    Christians are not asked to push the crucifix up their arms, but they can wear a stitched-on Christian cross or push the jewellery and cross (around their necks) down their top or shirt.

  • Meena

    It can’t be worn in a clinical situation – and very proper too.

  • Acleron

    You have been asked for evidence and you couldn’t produce any. Your personal anecdotes were not even mentioned let alone included, they are not evidence.

    I know that you cannot understand why your opinions don’t magically become evidence but that is your problem, not mine.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your own Archbishop in London

    More evidence piles up that we’re dealing with a foreigner to UK …

    (as if the ridiculous pretense to have “attended” at Cambridge weren’t proof enough)

  • Meena

    As soon as anyone tells me what I MUST believe and do, without any reason(s), I shall vanish like the stars at dawn. 

  • JabbaPapa

    People are taught to think for themselves

    oxymorons’R’us

  • JabbaPapa

    No, Christians are told that they are always free to resign and seek other employment.

  • Acleron

    Well, obviously some catholics aren’t. (think that is)

  • JabbaPapa

    Why should I provide personal anecdotes to someone who has already declared on multiple occasions his disbelief in personal anecdote ?

    That’s like trying to demonstrate the results of this week-end’s football to somebody who utterly rejects news reports as being entirely unreliable.

    No — you’ve made an a priori decision, that you’re trying to dress up as being “evidence-based”.

    I know that you fail to understand that your personal opinions are not true by default.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Or perhaps it’s time for something like this.

    ‘Come, my brethren! Take courage and stand beneath our banner! The darkness closes in, and we are the only true defenders of the Light! March to victory and arise triumphant!’