A Christian children's worker is facing an employment tribunal and claiming unfair dismissal after she was allegedly fired for telling a lesbian colleague that God did not approve of homosexual practice.
Sarah Mbuyi's case is the first to use a declaration by the Council of Europe in favour of religious rights to support it.
Mbuyi was employed by Newpark Childcare in Shepherd's Bush, London, and says she was speaking with a colleague in January last year who raised the issue of what the Bible teaches on homosexuality. The colleague felt unhappy that she could not marry her female partner because of the Church, and said that she thought God condoned homosexuality.
Mbuyi said she responded: "When I said 'No, God does not condone the practice of homosexuality, but does love you and says you should come to Him as you are', she became emotional and went off to report me to my manager."
On January 9, the nursery directors dismissed her for gross misconduct on the grounds that she had breached the equality policy of the nursery. She says she had previously discussed matters of faith and religion without any offence being taken.
She is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which argues that the nursery is in breach of European law. It points to a Council of Europe resolution passed on January 29 this year on "Tackling intolerance and discrimination in Europe with a special focus on Christians", based on the report of Valeriu Ghiletchi (Moldova) who is a member of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. His report expresses dismay at the cases from the UK.
The Council issued a formal declaration urging states to recognise the principle of "reasonable accommodation" for the beliefs of traditionalist Christians on issues such as gay marriage. It says: "Expression of faith is sometimes unduly limited by national legislation and policies which do not allow the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices."
Mbuyi said: "My disciplinary hearing was hopelessly one-sided. It seemed to me they had already made up their minds to justify sacking me, before hearing my side of the story.
"It is obvious that we live in a climate where being Christ-like—following the Bible as much as we can—and being open and honest about that, is a problem now."
Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented: "Sharing biblical truths out of genuine love for colleagues is being outlawed in the workplace by an oppressive 'cultural correctness'. There is a culture of fear which shuts down freedom of speech and the expression of faith.
"It's indicative of the sad state we're in that we're using EU Law in Sarah's case because she was prevented from living out her faith in a country which once led the world in freedom and justice.
"This culture tries to portray the liberating good news of the Gospel as oppressive and regressive. Sarah's case demonstrates the confusion we're experiencing in current times."