Misunderstanding Equality
Religious liberty as a human-rights violation?

Nadia Eweida won a religious freedom case against British Airways on January 15, 2013.


LOPEZ: What’s next for those who lost?

COLEMAN: Both Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane have stated that they will appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court. Nothing has been announced from Lillian Ladele’s lawyers at this time but it is likely they will also appeal.

LOPEZ: What’s the approach for appeal in the “Grand Chamber” of this European court?

COLEMAN: The Grand Chamber is composed of 17 judges (as opposed to seven in a Chamber decision) and any case appealed to it is heard afresh. Unfortunately the Grand Chamber hears fewer than 20 cases per year, so it is by no means guaranteed that the U.K. cases will be accepted at the highest level. In the famous case of Lautsi v. Italy (2010), in which Alliance Defending Freedom represented 33 members of the European Parliament, a Chamber decision unanimously held that Italy was in violation of the Convention for displaying crucifixes in public schools. The case was appealed to the Grand Chamber, which overturned the decision by a 15–2 margin. This recent case should provide encouragement to the three applicants who lost yesterday.


LOPEZ: Do you have hope for legislation?

COLEMAN: The British prime minister, David Cameron, had previously stated that if the cross cases lost at the European Court, he would change the law. Shirley Chaplin, the nurse who lost her case yesterday, said, “I still expect David Cameron to change the law and anything else would be a broken promise.” However, laws in the U.K. are already in place to protect Christians. There is the Equality Act 2010, which prevents discrimination on the grounds of religion, including Christianity, and there is the Human Rights Act 1998, which enshrines the European Convention into domestic law, giving Christians protection under Article 9. The Human Rights Act also includes a clause which states that, “if a court’s determination of any question arising under this Act might affect the exercise by a religious organisation (itself or its members collectively) of the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it must have particular regard to the importance of that right.”

The solution, therefore, is unlikely to be more legislation, but better interpretation of existing legislation. At the moment freedom of religion is being interpreted so narrowly that there is very little protection for religious believers at all. Rather than more legislation, the U.K. and Europe must see freedom of religion as encompassing far more than merely freedom of worship.

LOPEZ: What is religious liberty in Britain today? What are its biggest challenges?

COLEMAN: There is no doubt that religious liberty is under serious threat in Britain, particularly for Christians. In the language of “equality,” “diversity,” and “tolerance,” secularists have found a way to sideline and marginalize Christianity, successfully framing the moral beliefs of Christians as “intolerant” or “discriminatory” and unworthy of protection. Unless a true balance is found, where Christians can be accommodated in the public square and not shut out, we will see many more cases like the four before the ECHR in the headlines.