Religious discrimination laws “a dead letter”

News reaches us from the Christian Legal Centre that Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, has won a claim for wrongful dismissal against Relate Avon. He was sacked because his Christian beliefs prevented him giving sex therapy to homosexual couples. The Employment Tribunal was in December and Mr. McFarlane was represented by religious liberties specialist, Barrister, Paul Diamond.

Gary McFarlane had worked for Relate since 2003. He was disappointed with the hostility he had experienced from Relate. Although Mr McFarlane had never had to provide sex therapy to a same sex couple, he thought that if the situation did arise, he would be able to discuss his Christian views with his supervisors so that his position could be discussed and if necessary accommodated. Any such discussions were, however, pre-empted by unexpected meetings between Mr McFarlane and his manager in October 2007 when he was asked to state his views regarding same sex couples. Despite explaining that he would counsel couples in compliance with Relate’s Equal Opportunities Policy, and that he would raise any issues with his supervisors and manager, as good practice required, Mr McFarlane was suspended in early January 2008 and then dismissed in March 2008.

However, although he won his wrongful dismissal claim, the Tribunal held that his claim of religious discrimination should fail. The Tribunal recognised powerful arguments on both sides, but held that the provision of non discriminatory services was important.

Andrea Minichiello Williams Director of the Christian Legal Centre said : “The law is in a confused state; in the case of Lillian Ladele, the Islington Registrar, the Court held that Christian belief must give way to the rights of same sex couples; but in the case of Gary McFarlane there is a finding of wrongful dismissal. The courts and public are confused; we call on the Government to recognise the legitimate expression of conscience by Christians in the area of sexual orientation and provide protection where necessary.”

She continued: “It is important to note that Mr. McFarlane has never refused to counsel a same sex couple; he merely raised the potential conflict between his Christian faith and homosexual conduct. It is deeply disturbing that the mere expression of religious belief with an inability to give unqualified support to sexual orientation issues means that a Christian can be dismissed with no attempt to provide suitable accommodation for his or her beliefs. The law preventing religious discrimination against Christians is in danger of becoming a dead letter”.

McFarlane v. Relate Avon Limted ET 1401179/08 (Bristol)

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