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UK Christian discrimination case to be heard in Europe rights court

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] is expected to hear arguments this week in a landmark case involving alleged workplace discrimination in the UK against four practicing Christians. Two of the applicants, British Airways employee Nadia Eweida and geriatrics nurse Shirley Chaplin, seek relief from workplace prohibitions against employees visibly wearing crosses [AFP report]. The other two applicants, registrar of the London Borough of Islington Lillian Ladele and therapist Gary McFarlane, say they were wrongfully terminated due to their religious beliefs [Guardian report]. Ladele refused to officiate same-sex civil ceremonies, and McFarlane refused to provide therapy to same-sex couples. In their application to the ECHR, all four applicants have invoked Article 9 (freedom of religion) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. Courts in the UK rejected all four claims. The ECHR is not expected to issue its decision on the case until several months after the case is heard.

Earlier this year, the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission [advocacy website] said the UK tribunals had ruled properly [BBC report] on the cases, but may not have given sufficient weight to Article 9 in Ladele and McFarlane's cases. In 2010, the UK passed the Equality Act, which combined the country's anti-discrimination legislation including the Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003[4] and the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006. In November 2009, a UK heterosexual couple whose civil partnership [Directgov backgrounder] application was denied [BBC report] by their local town council announced they planned to challenge the refusal [JURIST report] in court. Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle are the first heterosexual couple to apply for a civil partnership in the UK, where same-sex couples may obtain legal recognition with rights akin to those of a married couple. They allege that the denial constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that such a distinction amounts to segregation in matrimonial law.

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