Gary McFarlane, a 48-year-old solicitor and part-time relationship counsellor with Relate (Avon) was dismissed by the charity for failing to give an unequivocal commitment to help same-sex couples improve their sex lives. Mr McFarlane claimed unfair dismissal and discrimination contrary to the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.
The counsellor, a former elder of a large multicultural church in Bristol, believes the Bible teaches that same-sex sexual practice is contrary to biblical teaching and therefore that he should do nothing which endorses this activity. Mr McFarlane had no objection to others in Relate counselling couples needing advice on same-sex activity, said it was an issue of conscience.
Mr McFarlane was dismissed by Relate (Avon) for his views. He appealed internally but his appeal was rejected, forcing him to take Relate to the Employment Tribunal. After he lost his case, he appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal but his appeal was dismissed by on Monday.
Mr McFarlane said: “This decision is a stark warning to people of conscience in this nation that as a result of 12 years of Labour rule, the British establishment no longer values the democratic rights of its citizens to hold conscience as a matter of principle.
“Society is the worse for not allowing people of conscience to exercise legitimate rights.”
Mr McFarlane was supported in his appeal by the Christian Legal Centre which instructed leading human rights barrister, Paul Diamond, and Mr Thomas Cordrey to represent him.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of CLC said: “Mr McFarlane was quite prepared for other counsellors to help same-sex couples in psychosexual counselling. He simply asked that on the rare occasions he was asked to do the same, his employer roster another counsellor to handle the case. This would have respected both the best interests of the counsellor and client.
“The seriously worrying underlying point in this case, which the court has refused to accept, is that for religious belief to be protected it is necessary to uphold the right to manifest that belief.
"The effect of this judgment is to rule out any expression of deeply-held conscience, even when the expression is limited to a very reasonable, practicable and sensible request to be assigned work such that worker and client are best served and that the work is tenable for the worker.
"This ruling goes against all notion of religious conscience protection and also against common sense."
Ms Williams warned that the freedom of religion protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights now offered "no protection whatsoever" to Christians and other people of faith with a conscience.
“Mr McFarlane will be appealing this decision. We will take this as far as is necessary, even if we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court and then Europe," she said. "We will press on until justice prevails."