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Europe rights court rules in religious freedom cases

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Tuesday in four landmark cases concerning the balance between religious freedom and equity laws protecting individuals from discrimination. In one case, the ECHR ruled in favor of a British Airways employee who had been instructed not to wear a crucifix at work. However, in two other cases it ruled that employers did not violate their employees' religious rights after disciplining them for refusing to offer services to homosexual individuals. It also turned down an appeal from a woman who was not allowed to wear a crucifix at the hospital that employed her because she did not show that her Muslim co-workers who wanted to wear religious clothing and articles were treated more favorably than Christian workers. In its decisions the court cited Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which protects the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is expected that the losing plaintiffs will appeal the decision to the ECHR Grand Chamber. If upheld, these decisions will force employers to find a balance between protecting their employees' religious rights and not discriminating against other groups of people, especially members of the LGBT community.

Increasing laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination have caused conflicts between secular governments and those religious institutions that take issue with homosexuality. In 2010 the UK Charity Commission [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the Catholic social services agency Catholic Care [agency website] may not restrict its adoption services to married heterosexual couples. In March of the same year the UK High Court [official website] issued a judgment [JURIST report] instructing the commission to reconsider a previous ruling on the adoption service's practice citing that respect for religious views is not a justification for discrimination in this particular case, because adoptions are a public service.

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