EHRC submission on UK religious discrimination laws

European Court of Human Rights

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You can now download the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s submission to the European Court of Human Rights on the four UK cases relating to religious discrimination.

It is 19 pages long, but to summarise it in a non-specific, over simplified and slightly glib way I would say:

  • wearing a cross at work – thumbs up; but
  • refusing to officiate at civil partnerships or provide counselling for gay couples – thumbs down.

Here are some direct quotes from the submission:

The Court’s early restrictive approach to manifestation has led to a narrow interpretation of Article 9 by the United Kingdom courts, which rarely accept that a restriction on an individual’s religious practice must be justified under Article 9(2). In these cases, the domestic courts did not reach any conclusions on this issue, but the Commission is concerned by the tendency in domestic law to narrowly construe the scope of manifestation. The fact that not all Christians choose to wear a cross should not necessarily undermine the rights of those Christians for whom the display of the cross is an essential and reasonable aspect of their autonomous interpretation of their faith.

In the Commission’s submission, recognition of the principles of dignity and autonomy requires an approach to the definition of manifestation that focuses primarily on the conviction of the adherent, providing the manifestation is carefully scrutinised if it is not a requirement of the religion and belief. Subject to this, the Commission invites the court to find that Article 9 applies in these cases and that, as a matter of general principle, it applies if an individual’s desire to manifest a belief is motivated by a genuinely held belief that attains a certain level of cogency and seriousness and is not unreasonable.

Further,

In the Commission’s view, it will generally be proportionate to refuse to make an accommodation in cases where a public sector employee seeks to be exempted from providing a public service on discriminatory grounds. Very strong arguments and evidence are required to prove the employer has acted disproportionately in cases such as these. State services must be provided on an impartial basis and employees cannot expect their public functions to be shaped to accommodate their personal religious beliefs. Sufficient margin of appreciation should be given, in the Commission’s view, to the United Kingdom, which has the necessary legislation in place that has been created through the democratic process, which explicitly addresses questions of religious exemption, and which has been interpreted by the United Kingdom appeal courts following extensive legal arguments.

The Commission’s proposals for a requirement of “reasonable accommodation” for religious beliefs does not form a part of this submission.

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One Response to EHRC submission on UK religious discrimination laws

  1. Pingback: Equality works both ways, doesn’t it? « If Jesus read newspapers….

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