CofE General Synod concerned for rights of Christians under Equality laws
Published 11 July 2011 | Karen Peake
Christians are finding it increasingly difficult to express their faith in the workplace, the Church of England’s General Synod was warned yesterday.
The Church’s parliamentary body heard how bishops in the Church of England have met with the Coalition to raise their concerns over the detrimental impact that the Equality laws are having on the rights of Christians.
Dr Philip Giddings, chairman of the Church’s public affairs council, warned that although Christians were not prevented from expressing their beliefs, their religious rights were not always being respected by employers.
“Some employers have interpreted the law in ways which seem to assume that reasonable and respectful expressions of faith are, almost by definition, offensive. This is a cause of great concern,” he said.
Dr Giddings said the Church had had a “sympathetic hearing” from Coalition ministers and that it was looking forward to “practical responses”.
The last few years have seen a string of court cases involving Christians who have been threatened with dismissal or disciplinary action by their employers for wearing crosses or expressing their beliefs at work.
Courts have tended to come down in favour of employers and rejected legal bids by Christians to work according to their consciences.
In one case, a Christian relationships counsellor was sacked by Relate for saying that he would not in conscience be able to offer sex therapy to a same-sex couple.
Two Christian guesthouse owners were this year ordered to pay £3,600 in damages to a gay couple after refusing to accommodate them in a double bedroom.
Recently, a Christian driver was told to remove an 8in cross from the dashboard of his company van, despite a Muslim employee being allowed to display a verse from the Koran in her company car. Wakefield District Housing backed down after public outcry and extensive media coverage.
Dr Giddings said: “In several encounters with Government ministers, notably on the Big Society, we have stressed the need to address the chill factor which leads employers and others to assume that the law is more restrictive than it is.
“We have had a sympathetic hearing and look forward to practical responses.
“The law does not prevent Christians from expressing their views at work. The law, rightly, expects everyone, including those of no faith, to act with due respect for other people's rights and duties in the field of religion or belief.
“However some employers have interpreted the law in ways which seem to assume that reasonable and respectful expressions of faith are, almost by definition, offensive. This is a cause of great concern.
“We shall continue to monitor the emerging case law on how far employers can lawfully limit the ability of Christians to manifest their faith in the workplace.”
With Christians finding little sympathy in the British law courts, some are now turning to the European Court of Human Rights.
The court in Strasbourg has asked the British Government to clarify whether the rights of Christians have been infringed by recent rulings in the British courts.
Earlier this year, the court ruled that crucifixes could be displayed in the classrooms of Italian schools after a legal challenge by a mother who wanted her children to be educated in a secular environment.
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