By: Matthew Brown, Deseret News
Faith leaders in the United Kingdom fear a recent court decision rejecting religious discrimination complaints in the workplace could lead to more persecution and job losses for Christians.
The European Court of Human Rights
' grand chamber refused to hear the appeals of three people who say they were wrongly disciplined by their employers for their religious beliefs, according to the Guardian
. The rejection on Tuesday effectively ends the legal battle
that had been monitored closely by both religious liberty advocates and secularists.
Two of the cases involved public employees. One was a local registrar who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies and another was a relationship counselor who was fired for saying he might object to assisting same-sex couples.
The third case involved a nurse who was moved to an administrative job after she refused to remove a crucifix around her neck.
This past week's development has religious groups concerned, in light of a same-sex marriage bill making its way through Parliament.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre
, which represented two of the workers, told the Telegraph
the decision could mean more discrimination for Christians.
“I think there's a terrible chilling impact. People are scared to say what they think for fear of being branded bigoted and phobic. To believe in marriage between a man and a woman has become a view unacceptable in the public aspect.”
The Telegraph reported that secular groups welcomed the decision. The British Humanist Association said "religious beliefs should be accommodated, but not when they impinge upon the rights and freedoms of others."
Peter Saunders wrote in LifeSite News
that the cases demonstrate that "under British law gay rights now trump conscience rights and that reasonable accommodation need not be made for employees. At a stroke this puts at risk the job of any employee objecting to helping gay couples in activities they believe to be wrong (eg. celebrating a civil partnership, adopting a baby, having sexual counseling etc)."
He added that the decision of the Grand Chamber has prompted calls
for more robust protections to be put in place for Christians in the U.K. government's Marriage Bill. The House of Lords is due to vote on the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage on Monday.
But Saunders said the human rights court, while ruling against Christians in three of four cases, also gave some hope for conscience rights by challenging some of the British courts' reasoning.
For example, the "British government also suggested that because the individuals were free to resign and find other jobs, there had been no infringement of their freedom of religion - in other words, 'your freedom to resign secures your freedom of religion.' But the European Court ruled that 'freedom to resign and find another job' is not sufficient to guarantee religious freedom."
Saunders wrote that such language would be a "great help in contending for Christian freedoms in the UK Courts in the future."
Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.