At last, the final chapter of the ‘discrimination against Christians’ cases (see previous posts ad nauseam). The European Court of Human Rights has thrown out the appeals of Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele. For the time being, at least, employers can be sure that an employee’s duty to conform to equality and health and safety rules is not trumped by any deeply held religious belief they may have.
The ECHR’s decision has led to claims that Christians will be excluded from certain jobs. This is, of course, complete rot. Let’s be clear, Christians are still just as protected under the law as any other religious group. What Christians (or anyone else for that matter) can’t do is claim that their religious views exempt them from having to follow policies their employers put in place to comply with the law . This ruling does not deny the rights of religious employees but it does deny them special privileges.
Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, said:
I think the real worry is that this could mean the systemic exclusion of people from certain roles in public life, simply because they hold their beliefs.
If, by that, he means self-exclusion then he may well be right. And it’s probably for the best. If there is an aspect of a job you object to then you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you are a vegetarian, don’t go and work in a butcher’s shop. If you don’t want to handle bottles of alcohol, don’t go and work in a shop that sells them. If you don’t want to marry same-sex couples, don’t go and work in a civil registry office.
There will, of course, still be many Christians working in registry offices and Muslims working on supermarket checkouts. (For all I know, there might even be vegetarians working in butcher’s shops.) They are entitled to do so. But if they do, they must accept those policies that are fundamental to the job. Those who don’t can rule themselves out and go and work somewhere else.