The Court held that Nadia Eweida's 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion' had been infringed by British Airways' decision to prevent her from wearing her cross visibly.
In the other cases, the European Court decided that decisions of the UK Courts were within the 'margin of appreciation' (discretion) that it allows to national Courts - but in so doing it challenged many of the principles adopted by UK Courts and asserted by the British government.
- So for example, the UK Government had made the remarkable assertion that the cross was not a generally recognised Christian symbol. It also suggested that since wearing the cross is not compulsory for Christians, it is not a protected freedom. The European Court ruled that, in principle, wearing the cross is an expression of Christian faith and so is a freedom to be protected!
- Again, the UK Courts had held that beliefs about marriage as between a man and a woman was not a core component of Christian belief and so not protected. The European Court said that these beliefs were part of Gary and Lillian's Christian identity and so were in principle protected!
- The British Government 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'. The European Court ruled that 'freedom to resign and find another job' is not sufficient to guarantee religious freedom.
Further to Go
However, it was very disappointing that in Shirley, Lillian and Gary's case, the Court ruled that, although their religious freedom had been infringed, the circumstances had justified that interference.
In Shirley's case, 'Health and Safety' was given as the justification. The European Court said that it was not in a position to examine the application of the Health and Safety policy. It had to assume that it was justified, as the UK Courts had suggested. However, no credible Health and Safety risk was ever demonstrated by the hospital.
In the case of Lillian and Gary, the European Court said that it was necessary to restrict their freedom in order to protect the freedom of others.
However, in both cases, it would have been possible to accommodate Gary and Lillian's conscience, without there being any danger of anyone being denied a service. This important point will continue to be made.
In what's now effectively a secular democracy, it's not surprising that 'religious' rights move a bit further down the pecking order. There seems to be such a diversity of views about marriage around at the moment that I'm not sure how long the traditional view will be seen as a 'core component' of Christian belief.
We have to continue to try to strike the tricky balance between not being doormats ('turning the other cheek' meant refusing to be treated as a slave or an inferior, if someone struck you on the right cheek it would be a backhanded slap, an insult. Turning the left cheek meant 'at least hit me as an equal', it was an act of non-violent defiance) and not being bolshie. Mind you, I'd still rather live under this regime than in just about any Muslim country you care to name. Egypt? Indonesia? Iran? Quite a lot of other places? I'm hoping there are some good examples to the contrary but can't think of many, and it's bad news for converts from Islam pretty much everywhere. If we want to stick up for the persecuted, there are still far too many global candidates that put the cases above into stark perspective. And it seems to be getting worse, not better.