UK Christians didn't find much help at the European Court of Human Rights yesterday.
Lillian Ladele, a registrar, was disciplined by Islington Council for asking to be excused from conducting same-sex civil partnership ceremonies on the grounds of religious conviction. She lost her claim for discrimination on the basis of freedom of conscience and religious belief.
Gary McFarlane, a Relate marriage counsellor dismissed for gross misconduct after suggesting he might not be able to counsel same-sex couples because of his Christian faith, also lost his claim.
Nadia Eweida, a British Airways check-in clerk sent home by her employers after refusing to remove a necklace with a small cross, won her case. The court ruled the UK had failed to protect her freedom to manifest her faith in the workplace.
The judges said that manifesting religion was a fundamental right. This was because "a healthy democratic society needs to tolerate and sustain pluralism and diversity, but also because of the value to an individual who has made religion a central tenet of his or her life to be able to communicate that belief to others."
Shirley Chaplin, a nurse ordered by her hospital to remove a small cross on a chain she had worn for some 30 years, lost a similar claim. The judges said the hospital should be able to refuse permission to wear a cross on health and safety grounds.
The Telegraph said in an editorial: "Instead of the application of a little common sense, we have seen protracted and costly legal action, followed by a judgment that severely curtails people's rights to manifest their faith at work. This is part of a wider trend to nudge religion to the margins of society. People of faith are depicted as being not part of the mainstream, as being quirky and different.
"We are not only a Christian country, we are a tolerant one - but it seems the new secularism has no room for toleration."
Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, said "What this shows is that Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage are at risk of being left out in the cold. If the Government steamrollers ahead with its plans to redefine marriage, then hundreds of thousands of people could be thrown out of their jobs unless they agree to endorse gay marriage."
Turtle Bay and Beyond, a blog covering international law, said it was not proportionate to dismiss an employee when he could have been accommodated in other positions or tasks. The refusal to accommodate the applicants was merely an ideological sanction meaning that, as a question of principle, there was no room on the staff for "intolerant Christians."
Canon Chris Sugden, of Anglican Mainstream, said homosexual rights were stifling the rights of people to live lives of faith openly. "Human rights were introduced to protect minorities but not to give them supervening rights over the rest of society. Gay rights have now become a separate privilege and a specially protected group of rights which trump all others, including freedom of conscientious objection and to hold religious conviction without fear of discrimination."
Dr Dave Landrum, of the Evangelical Alliance, said "Christianity is not about a set of rules, but a God that brings people into a new life of freedom. This new life is then lived out 24-7, and cannot ever be restricted to just our private lives.
"If UK courts are going to protect religious freedom more fully in the future they need to better understand the nature of Christian belief. . . We need solutions that will allow for the reasonable accommodation of the expression of religious belief."