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Slaw: European court of human rights rules on religious freedom cases in workplaces

On January 15, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg released its ruling in the cases of four Christian employees who argued that they suffered from discrimination and that their employers encroached upon their right to religious freedom at work. All four applicants complained that domestic law had failed to adequately protect their right to manifest their religion. We provided a commentary on the case in a previous Slaw blog post, so I will not go into details. Suffice it to say; only one of the four cases heard was successful in their claims reaffirming religious freedom is a right but not an absolute one.

The Court’s judges ruled by five votes to two that British Airways violated Article 9 (freedom of religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights by making employee Nadia Eweida remove her crucifix at work. The Court concluded in the case of Mrs. Eweida that a fair balance had not been struck between the employee’s desire to manifest her religious belief and to be able to communicate that belief to others, and the employer’s wish to project a certain corporate image, no matter how legitimate that aim might be.

However, the judges were unanimous that there was no violation in the cases of: Nurse Shirley Chaplin, who was moved to a paperwork role after refusing to remove a crucifix, which it argued could cause injury when handling patients; Gary McFarlane, a marriage counsellor, who was sacked for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexuals; or Registrar Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined after she declined to conduct same-sex civil partnerships.

The principle stemming from this case is clearly laid out in the judgment; freedom of religion is:

For more, read my latest and previous post on Slaw

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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