Craig Mackenzie – Daily Mail September 2, 2012
Four devout Christians will this week ask human rights judges to uphold complaints that the UK government failed to respect their right to religious freedom.
In a landmark case on Tuesday they will argue they have suffered discrimination as a result of their faith and appeal against their treatment.
The four – former nurse Shirley Chaplin, relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane, British Airways worker Nadia Eweida and registrar Lilian Ladele – will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Mrs Chaplin, from Devon, left her job after 30 years in the NHS when she was told she could not wear her crucifix because of health and safety rules.
Mr McFarlane was sacked for saying he might not feel comfortable giving sex therapy to homosexual couples.
Nadia Eweida was prevented from wearing a cross and Lilian Ladele was disciplined by London’s Islington Council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
The Government will argue Christians do not have the right to wear a crucifix at work and that employers can ban them and sack workers who insist on doing so.
Leading church figures are backing the case against the Coalition with the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir Ali submitting an 11-page document to the court.
He claims that the right of Christians have been ‘vanquished’ amid an ‘increasingly aggressive secularism’ while courts have allowed the wearing of a Sikh bangle, the Islamic headscarf and even a cornrow haircut.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed Christians are being ‘persecuted’ by the courts and ‘driven underground.’
Mrs Chaplin, a 56-year-old grandmother from Kenn, near Exeter, was taken off hospital wards and moved to a desk job after refusing to remove the religious symbol she had worn since she was 16.
After losing her religious discrimination case against the hospital trust that employed her at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital as a sister, she described the result as ‘a very bad day for Christianity’.
She added: ‘I have worn my cross for 38 years and it has never harmed anybody. If I am forced to hide it, I feel I am denying my Christian convictions.’
Today Mrs Chaplin is not looking forward to appearing in front of judges to argue her case. She told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I’m not out to start a revolution.
‘I’m a very ordinary person with faith – and I think that faith is being undermined in this country. In Britain there is a lot of talk about cultural diversity, tolerance of faiths and the importance of embracing the whole community yet that doesn’t seem to extend to Christians.’
Mrs Chaplin is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, who are also backing Gary McFarlane. They have instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights lawyer, to represent them in Strasbourg.
Mr McFarlane, 51, a father of two who arrived in Britain from Jamaica when he was six, became a Christian at 17 and joined Relate as a relationship counsellor in 2003.
But in 2007 his non-attendance at a training lecture for couples counselling which screened the film Brokeback Mountain about two cowboys who fall in love, was reported to his manager in the Avon branch.
Later that year he was suspended when he responded to his manager that he didn’t ‘really know’ what felt about providing sex therapy for same-sex couples.
He said: ‘That was my honest answer – I really hadn’t thought about it. – it had never come up as an issue.
‘Why would a gay couple come to me why would they not choose a gay sex therapist when there are plenty?’
Mr McFarlane was unable to complete his qualification as a sex therapist and refused memberships of representative bodies which would have given him access to clients.
He told the paper: ‘I understand diversity and I know what it is to be a minority.