Christians on trial in 2010

As Christians living in modern Britain we enjoy precious freedoms that our fellow believers in less open nations could only dream of. These freedoms didn’t fall out of the clear blue sky, they were won for us in past generations by courageous Christians who wrestled for them and passed them on to us.

In dark corners of the world today there are men, women and children whose lives are on the line simply for following Christ. They would leap at the chance to enjoy just one day of our liberty. We owe it to them to cherish our freedom, and to defend it against those who seek to take it away. There is not one inch of liberty that isn’t worth fighting for.

That is why, nearly three years ago, I left my law firm and came to work for The Christian Institute, managing cases of public interest litigation to defend the religious liberty of Christians. As we near the end of 2010, the last twelve months has seen some real encouragements, and some disappointments, for The Christian Institute’s cases.

In March the newly-formed UK Supreme Court rejected an appeal in the case of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar from Islington who was threatened with dismissal unless she performed homosexual civil partnership registrations. The Supreme Court said the case “does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance”. Miss Ladele is now taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the UK has unlawfully infringed her rights to religious liberty.

There was good news in April when a case involving a Christian mother and part-time school receptionist was settled without going to court. Jennie Cain had been disciplined by her employers following a dispute about a private prayer email.

Mrs Cain took legal action against her employers for religious discrimination and the matter was settled out of court. Her employers paid out an undisclosed sum of money and agreed that Christians should be treated with “sensitivity and respect” at the school.

Also in April, a Christian street preacher was arrested, held by police for over seven hours, and charged with a crime because he had told a Police Community Support Officer that the Bible says homosexual behaviour is a sin. The charges were later dropped against Dale Mcalpine of Workington in Cumbria. He took civil action against the police and in December the police settled. They paid £7,000 in damages and admitted that they had infringed Mr Mcalpine’s human rights.

In July a foster carer with 10 years’ experience won her legal battle after she was struck off when a 16-year-old Muslim girl in her care converted to Christ. Gateshead Council’s decision to deregister the foster carer was quashed by the High Court after the council admitted it had acted unlawfully. At the heart of this case was a young person’s right to choose her faith and a foster carer’s right to practice hers.

In December Birmingham street preacher, Anthony Rollins, won his court case against West Midlands Police for wrongful arrest, unlawful detention and breach of his human rights. The judge ruled that the police committed assault and battery against Mr Rollins when they handcuffed him unnecessarily. He was awarded £4,250 in damages and the police were ordered to pay his legal costs.

In the same month, the Christian owners of a Guesthouse appeared in Bristol County Court to defend themselves against a claim of discrimination brought by a homosexual couple. Peter and Hazelmary Bull’s guesthouse restricts double bed accommodation to married couples. The guesthouse is also their home. But civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall say the policy is unlawful and are suing the Christians for £5,000, including for injuring their feelings. The trial lasted two days and the judge has reserved his decision until after Christmas.

As 2010 turns into 2011, Mr and Mrs Bull will have the decision hanging over them. As Christians, they are trusting in God, whatever the outcome may be. As a lawyer and a Christian, that is my approach too. I will use all my professional skills to battle for every inch of religious liberty. But ultimately I trust God for whatever the future may hold.

Sam Webster is Solicitor-Advocate for The Christian Institute. Prior to joining the Institute in 2008, he worked for an international law firm after qualifying as a solicitor with them in 2001.