Today, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights announced its decision in the highly-anticipated Eweida and Others v. United Kingdom, a group of four consolidated cases brought by British Christians who alleged that the UK had violated their religious freedom under the European Convention on Human Rights. From the claimants’ perspective, the outcome was, at best, mixed: the chamber ruled in favor of only one of the four claimants. With respect to the other three, the chamber accepted the government’s argument that important countervailing interests, including the protection of gay rights, outweighed concerns about religious freedom.
The claimants alleged that their employers had violated their religious freedom by disciplining them for manifesting their Christian beliefs. Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Shirley Chaplain, a hospital nurse, complained that their employers had forbidden them from wearing cross necklaces at work. Lillian Ladele, a public registrar, lost her job when she declined, out of religious conviction, to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples. Gary McFarlane, a psychotherapist, was fired by a sex counseling service because of his objections to providing sexual advice to same-sex couples. British courts had ruled against all four claimants, who then applied to the European Court for relief.
I won’t get into the details of the analysis here, but, briefly, the European Convention provides that individuals have the right to manifest their religious beliefs, but that governments may limit that right if necessary to protect important countervailing interests, such as public health and “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” With respect to the first two claimants, the chamber held that Continue reading