A Fine Balance

I see that the European Court of Human Rights has delivered its judgments in the cases of four Christians who claimed that their religious rights were being infringed by their employers.

And I think that the ECHR got it right. They supported the claim of Nadia Eweida, and dismissed the other three claimant’s cases.

Frankly, I didn’t think British Airways had a leg to stand on when (1) they refused to allow Eweida to wear a crucifix visibly while (2) they allowed the wearing of turbans and hijabs, and (3) they subsequently changed the rules so that the wearing of crucifixes was permissible.

In the other three cases, the ECHR quite rightly pointed out that Christian rights do not trump human rights. However, Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre wants to reframe these as cases where gay rights is apparently winning over human rights:

In the cases of Ladele and McFarlane, she added, sexual rights had been given priority over religious liberty: “[The judges said] that if an employer has an equalities policy and says there should be no discrimination in any way on the grounds of sexual orientation no matter what your Christian belief is that the sexual orientation rights win.”

Nonsense. As Joshua Rozenberg writes:

Take the case of Lilian Ladele, the registrar of births, deaths and marriages who lost her job when she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies. By a majority of five votes to two, the Strasbourg judges dismissed her claim that she had suffered discrimination in comparison to a registrar with no religious objection to same-sex unions.

That was because the local authority for which she worked also had a legitimate duty to protect the rights of same-sex couples. The human rights court generally allows member states a wide discretion — what it calls a “margin of appreciation” — when it comes to striking a balance between competing rights. According to the five judges in the majority, the decision to sack her was within that discretion.

But what am I to make of the language used by the two dissenting judges (out of the seven on the panel)?

In a dissenting judgment, two ECHR judges, Nebojsa Vucinic and Vincent de Gaetano, said Ladele’s right to freedom of conscience had been infringed. They explained: “We are of the view that once a genuine and serious case of conscientious objection is established, the state is obliged to respect the individual’s freedom of conscience.”

They also launched a fierce verbal attack on the culture prevalent in her local authority: “In the third applicant’s case, however, a combination of backstabbing by her colleagues and the blinkered political correctness of the borough of Islington (which clearly favoured ‘gay rights’ over fundamental human rights) eventually led to her dismissal.”

That is quite extraordinary language from judges who sit on the ECHR. However, as Rozenberg points out:

Minority judgments are written by the judges themselves, unlike the majority ruling which is compiled by officials. The court itself would never have said that gay rights were not human rights.

I note that the two judges hail from Montenegro and Malta. Clearly, based on these two individuals, who, one would assume, represent the highest flowering of moral and judicial sensibility, the moral zeitgeist has not moved forward in those countries at the same rate as elsewhere.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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