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Mr Cameron said that if necessary, he will legislate to make it clear that people can wear religious symbols at work. So: when’s he going to do it?

Three out of four claimants who say their religious rights have been infringed have been rejected by Strasbourg. What about them, Mr Cameron?

By on Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Shirley Chaplin poses with her crucifix necklace (Photo: PA)

Shirley Chaplin poses with her crucifix necklace (Photo: PA)

I see that Mr Cameron has tweeted that he is “delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld”. The genial Eric Pickles said that he too is delighted. They were referring, of course, to the judgement in which, by a majority of five to two, judges of the European Court of Human Rights have supported the claim of Nadia Eweida, a BA check-in clerk, who was sent home in November 2006 for refusing to remove a small silver crucifix, that this was a violation of her rights.

But what about the three Christians whose claims were rejected by the court? Cameron and Pickles have said nothing about them: nor, in most reports that I heard, did the BBC (later they mentioned them in passing). The court ruled against Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was told to remove a crucifix necklace at work. The judges said Chaplin’s employer banned necklaces for health and safety grounds, so asking her to remove the symbol was not excessive: though how this argument could be seriously upheld, when after a nursing career of 30 years not a single incident has occurred remotely involving her crucifix in either health or safety, beats me.

The judges also rejected the claims of Lillian Ladele, a local authority registrar who said her Christian faith prevented her from overseeing same-sex civil partnerships, and marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, who refused to offer sex therapy to gay couples. In both cases, the court argued that employers had been entitled to strike a balance between claimants’ rights to manifest their religious beliefs and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination. Freedom of religion, they piously intoned, is “an essential part of the identity of believers and one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies … However, where an individual’s religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made.”

But exactly how does refusing to conduct a same-sex civil partnership ceremony, or refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples, impinge on anyone’s rights? There are plenty of registrars prepared to carry out this procedure: and the couples involved would have been quite unaware even of Lilian Ladele’s existence, let alone of her views on civil partnerships. As for giving “sex therapy” to gay couples, how on earth would a heterosexual person know how to do that? And would a gay couple having difficulties in that department really want the advice of someone so totally unqualified to give it? Would a heterosexual couple want the advice of a gay sex therapist? So why did Relate fire Gary McFarlane in the first place?

And why exactly aren’t David Cameron and Eric Pickles supporting them? Even in the case of Nadia Eweida, are we not entitled to doubt their entire sincerity? If Cameron, in particular, is so keen on religious liberty, whatever happened to his promise to legislate to protect them — yet another promise which has not been and probably will not be kept. And more to the point, why were government lawyers sent to Strasbourg to argue against all four claimants, including Nadia Eweida? This is what James Eadie QC, Cameron’s Government’s expensive barrister, told the court (on his behalf): 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, second, there is clear and consistent jurisprudence that the person who asserts religious rights may on occasion have to take account of their position.”

Isn’t that what Cameron really thinks? Believe what you like: but if your employers don’t like you making it clear that you have beliefs you expect to be respected, forget it? 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 and then fired completely, after 30 years of nursing. “It is insulting, humiliating and degrading,” she said when her case was first taken to the European court: she then said, Mr Cameron please note, “My Christian faith isn’t something that you put on and then take off to go to work”.

But isn’t that exactly what Cameron really thinks she ought to do, whatever he tweets? David Davis said at the time that “the idea that British citizens are not free to express their faith in the workplace is an extraordinary and oppressive interpretation of the law”. Cameron claimed to agree. “What we will do,” Cameron told the House of Commons in July, “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” (and as has now been confirmed, in the case of Shirley Chaplin), “then we will change the law and make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work”. Well, according to the law as it has emerged, that isn’t clear at all now.

So, Mr Cameron: when are you going to do what you said you would do? When are you going to legislate, to make it “clear”?

Me, I’m not holding my breath.

  • karlf

    I still see no sign of their actual reality, but as you are prohibited from discussing this, there is clearly no point in continuing with the topic.

  • la catholic state

    The Catholic Church was founded by Christ who is God made Man.  See Matthew 16:16.  Catholicism comes from God too as does logic reason and sense.

  • Peter

    The Church was founded by Our Lord who is both man and God.

  • Peter

    As a member of that populace, you have certainly expressed your freedom to be wrong and barmy.

  • JabbaPapa

    The Church was founded by Our Lord who is both man and God.

    Yes — so you see, you’ve not contradicted me … :-)

  • JabbaPapa

    I still see no sign of their actual reality

    To be fair, it is only a small minority of people who will ever have any personal experience of them.

  • JabbaPapa

    Sorry, I really didn’t think you expected an answer from that “pointed”
    question – as I’ve never considered insects as possessing consciousness,
    I thought you were just being sarcastic.

    The existence of any sarcasm does not detract from its being a serious objection to your basic position.

    Consciousness is NOT then provided by animality, as you were suggesting ?

  • karlf

    Not insects, but animals more closely related to us. Don’t you believe chimpanzees to possess consciousness?

  • JabbaPapa

    Not insects, but animals more closely related to us. Don’t you believe chimpanzees to possess consciousness?

    So where and how do you draw the line then ?

    Arbitrarily ?

    And no, I’ve never seen any evidence supporting the idea that any non-huma

  • Tridentinus

     The problem is that you are confusing morality with legality, i.e. that if an action is legal it is therefore also moral. You obviously believe that the civil authority, however it is constituted, is the sole arbiter of what is moral and what is immoral. This means that an act can be bad one day and good the next if the law changes. It means that an act can be good under one jurisdiction and evil under another.

  • Tridentinus

     I can’t remember exactly what I posted but I think I may have assumed that you were an atheist and I apologise for this if is not true.

  • Tridentinus

    I based my general opinion of the ECtHR upon this but forgot to mention it:-

  • majorcalamity

    I don’t think so. Surely morality is a personal matter, whilst the law isn’t. I don’t think the state has, or ought to have, any view on what is moral, only what is legal. The state will base it’s judgements, at least in part, on our collective moral attitudes., but that is all. 

  • majorcalamity

    Thank you. To be fair to you, and others I am a non believer. However, I consider myself an agnostic and not an atheist because you cannot prove a negative.  As there is a possibility that I might be wrong I cannot rule it out. In fact, as no-one can actually prove the existence of “God”, I think the honest position for everyone is to be agnostic.  

  • JabbaPapa

    Surely morality is a personal matter

    Is this a conclusion of your “wide” and “deep” understanding of Philosophy ?

    What a joke …

    How can morality, which is the ordering of our actions so that they are in accord with the public expectation of the limits and freedoms that are deemed as being acceptable, be a “personal” matter ????

    This statement of yours makes NO SENSE whatsoever.

  • JabbaPapa

    as no-one can actually prove the existence of “God”, I think the honest position for everyone is to be agnostic

    God Himself can prove His own existence ; indeed, He is the only One who can do so, He or His various manifestations in this world.

    Otherwise, for once I agree with you — as an ex-agnostic, I would agree that it is a reasonable default position.

  • majorcalamity

    Is that your own definition or from some authoritative source? It does not accord with the OED, (or indeed any other dictionary I have read) :-

    ” principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour”

    Behaviour, In my opinion, involves personal decisions. 

  • majorcalamity

    Would you also agree that some people can suffer delusions? If so how can anyone be sure what they are actually experiencing?

  • JabbaPapa

    Good grief !!!

    This is basic Philosophy, man !!!

    The concepts “right” and “wrong” are only personally determined by autists and schizophrenics.

    Forget Aquinas — you haven’t the basic grounding in Philosophy to understand his writing.

    I’m not even sure your grounding is enough to understand the Wikipedia version :

  • JabbaPapa

    There is an inherent difference between events in the mind and those occurring in physical reality.

    But please don’t expect me to engage in detailed discussion of my conversion, it is private and it will remain so.

  • majorcalamity

    I use common sense and work things out for myself. I have actually read some of Aquinas’s writing. There are grains of truth in there for sure, but much of it is good old common sense, and available to all.

    The point is that whilst we may well share many concepts of what we regard as right or wrong we have to take personal responsibility for our actions, and should not defer those decisions to anyone else, or any group. We therefore need to determine our own morality. The state will step in when those actions break the laws it has determined 

  • majorcalamity

    I will, of course, respect your privacy. I am not though so certain that physical “realities” cannot be delusions. I can think of a number of events which seem to fit such a description. Fatima would be one, as would those people who believe they have seen a ghost. You have only to do a cursory study to know that what people think they see can often be very wrong. Which is why eye witness evidence is so unreliable.

  • JabbaPapa

    “common sense”.

    This simply demonstrates the point that morality is a collective property, not an individual undertaking.

  • TreenonPoet

     (I have unclicked ‘Like’. When I clicked it yesterday, my screen only showed the first two lines of your post!)

    Thank you for that link. The report is horrifying to read (yet not surprising). The most depressing thing to me is the lack of action when shortcomings are highlighted.

    That the judgement of the cases of Eweida, Chaplin, Ladele, and McFarlane is open to public scrutiny is some comfort, as is the fact that at least some of the judges have calibre.

    Equality regarding particular benefits is not the same thing as equality in all attributes (as I am sure you know, so I am surprised that you try to argue otherwise). The Catholic Church, and many other religious organisations, oppose the former sort of equality. This is one of the reasons that many religions are bad; they encourage divisiveness, unfairness, discrimination, and so on…

    A young lady in America, on winning a lawsuit to have a prayer banner removed from her school, was subject to bullying and threats of the nastiest kind. A large part of her local community turned against her. (Google Jessica Ahlquist for details.) Perhaps, as a Christian, you think that she deserved that treatment. If so, I would have no hesitation in calling you immoral. It is the sort of immorality that is built into religions. In even less civilised countries, the outcome of religious outrage is often death. Religion is used as an excuse for the most despicable behaviour, as demonstrated in the history of the Catholic Church.

    In a Catholic hospital in America, a pregnant woman was in agony and needed life-saving treatment. Doctors refused to operate because to do so would slightly shorten the life of her unborn. The nurse that saved her life was excommunicated for her trouble. To me, the doctors standing by and watching the woman dying in agony was the height of evil. After a related case in the British Isles, Catholic Bishops made an ambiguous announcement regarding abortions. They could not bring themselves to admit that Catholic doctrine was wrong. That act, in itself, was immoral. Decisions of morality should weigh as many relevant factors as time allows (and the supposed thoughts of a deity should carry zero weight, not a 100% weighting). Hypocritically, in these abortion cases, the Church pretends to argue for equality.

    I am sure you can think of a number of situations where the moral thing to do involves killing somebody, but would you agree with the biblical suggestion that children who dishonour their parents should be put to death? In discarding that, you are not being guided by the Bible because it is the Bible that prescribes that action, so what do you think is guiding your decision of morality? Morality come from reasoning. Reasoning is superior to blind acceptance of doctrinal teaching because the latter lacks the cogent and compelling reasons that you demand.

    The criteria by which I would determine whether my morality is superior to yours would depend on the reasoning given for making particular moral decisions. If you ‘reasoning’ in a particular situation was ”The Catholic Church teaches that…”, I would award you zero points.

    I do not derive my morality from the law. The law is not always even a good guide.

    Your question of whether self-restraint would afford a paedophile any protection from abuse and physical violence if his/her proclivity were to become known seems out of place, but I will try to answer it. One could imagine that, despite self-restraint, the proclivity became known, for example, as a result of being seen to seek ‘confidential’ help. The self-restraint would count in his/her favour with fair-minded people. The law cannot offer perfect protection, which I suppose would at least be an incentive to self-restraint.

    Bringing children up without religion is not the same as bringing them up without morals. Again you conflate religion with morality.

    Not only are religious institutions are allowed to indoctrinate children, it is mandated by law. State schools must facilitate collective worship. The reason given by Gordon Brown’s office when he was Prime Minister was that it was essential for the spiritual development of the child (‘spiritual development’ being a euphemism). Some parents may encourage it because they think it is right. That does not mean that it is right. I am not suggesting that children should be taken away from their parents, but teachers ought to be supported if they disabuse a child of false notions.

  • Tridentinus

    Sorry I posted the first few lines too early by accident then added the rest as an edit.

    The point I am trying to make about equality is that more often than not it is trying to square the circle by legislation.

    In the Jessica Ahlqvist case the local community, not all Catholic or even Christian, is entitled to register its disapproval. This should not include hate-mail or death-threats, and the like. Rhode Island State Council of Christian Churches condemned this behaviour. However she should not be surprised that people she has offended do not welcome her with open arms.
    The girl’s action, however, was an obvious set-up by the ACLU, a minority using the law to bully the majority and this probably contributed to her unpopularity.

    In the case of the nun it is difficult to judge as the circumstances are unclear and also mostly hearsay. The nun would not have been excommunicated by the bishop as she would have incurred it automatically through her action. The bishop could only have confirmed this and it seems he has since lifted it as only he could do that.

    I’m sure you know that what the Catholic Church teaches is not thousands of soundbites plucked randomly from Scripture. Thousands of scholars, philosophers as well as theologians have developed these doctrines throughout the centuries by applying reason and logic to Relevation.

    I believe that basic morality is innate and knowable via reason, however, it is very complex and the vast majority of us do not have the time or the intelligence or even the will to work everything out for ourselves. We do not re-learn our tables every time we do a calculation, we rely upon what we have already learned. In our ever- day behaviour we act morally according to what we have already been taught.
    My reason does not lead me to dispute anything the Catholic Church has taught me.

    I won’t argue over the education (indoctrine) of children as your obvious animus towards religion, Catholicism in particular, really makes this a pointless exercise.
    It ought to give you heart that religious education is so dire in this
    country even in Catholic schools and communities. Many who have been born to practising parents, given a good grounding in the Faith and regularly go to church give it all up when they reach mid-teens. This, however, is not due to disbelief in God rather it is to avail themselves of the fleshpots the modern world without having to suffer a guilty conscience: they hide from God rather than reject him and many will return to him later in life.

  • majorcalamity

    No it doesn’t! You just don’t get it do you? We collectively set standards. We determine our morality individually. 

  • karlf

    Most people mean a phenomenal consciousness when they use the term, but there is no hard scientific evidence that any animal has such a consciousness – simply because it is near impossible to probe. However, if we use indicators other than language, such as behavioural and neural correlates, most scientist in the field would probably adhere to the belief that many animals have phenomenal consciousness. 
    When it comes to other types of consciousness, such as self-reflective consciousness or sensorially detached phenomenal consciousness (when you close you eyes and imagine stuff), the debate is still ongoing. Self-reflective consciousness can in principle be measured (if it is not dependent on phenomenal experiences) can an animal act in a way that appears to be self-reflective? The detached phenomenal consciousness is trickier as it contains the phenomenal element. However, one can measure whether apes can behave as humans do when we are dependent on our detached consciousness, like for example is specific types of planning. There are test results indicating that chimps have the types of consciousness as mentioned above. But there are still questions about “degrees”.

  • TreenonPoet

    Thousands of scholars, philosophers as well as theologians have developed these doctrines throughout the centuries by applying reason and logic to [revelation].”

    So the Church is as deranged as the man who kills because he thinks God told him to?

  • Tridentinus

     Oh, come off it. Your animus towards Christiaity is no more portrayed better than by this glib ‘one liner’ post.

  • TreenonPoet

    Your reply suggests that you are unable to defend the use of revelation as a basis for morality.

  • JabbaPapa

    Which is all speculation based on circumstancial evidence.

    However, one can measure whether apes can behave as humans do when we
    are dependent on our detached consciousness, like for example is
    specific types of planning

    No, these tests are indicative of relative intelligence in animal species, and it is very dubious that they are indicative of consciousness.

    Naturally, those scientists using the postulate that consciousness is a strictly biological function will interpret the results of such testing one way, while those who postulate it as an essentially metalinguistic function will interpret them another way — but unless and until strictly rational communications can be held with individuals belonging to other animal species, the default scientific position must be that consciousness is not demonstrated in any of those species.

    Most people mean a phenomenal consciousness when they use the term

    NOT when one is discussing metaphysics ; where the use of that definition of consciousness must be strictly limited so as to avoid category errors.

    Metaphysics must necessarily make use of multiple theories of consciousness, rather than limiting itself to any one particular understanding of it.

  • karlf

    And there is no good evidence that chimps do not possess consciousness.
    “No, these tests are indicative of relative intelligence in animal species, and it is very dubious that they are indicative of consciousness” says Jabbapapa.