European Court announces judgment on Christian freedom cases

16 January 2013

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced its judgment yesterday in the cases of four UK Christians.

In all the cases, the court underlined the importance of “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shirley Chaplin

In Shirley Chaplin’s case, it importantly held that ‘wearing the cross’ including in the manner that Shirley does is a valid manifestation of Christian faith.

This counters the UK courts’ and British government’s position, which said in its submission to the ECHR that this was not a recognised form of manifesting Christian faith.

Although the European Court didn’t overturn the British courts’ decision concerning Shirley, this was because the judges felt that the ECHR wasn’t in a position to adjudicate on the health and safety policy of the hospital where Shirley worked.

This meant that the European judges had to rely on the British courts’ account. But no credible health and safety risk was ever demonstrated in the British courts (Shirley had worn her cross for 30 years in frontline nursing).

Gary McFarlane

In Gary McFarlane’s case, the ECHR made it clear that views on marriage and associated sexual ethics are also a manifestation of Christian identity.

This again counters the government’s position and the British courts and is therefore an important corrective.


There has been huge media interest in the judgment. International media gathered at the Christian Legal Centre Offices for the press conference and the news was reported throughout the day. Gary, Shirley and Christian Concern staff were able to conduct many interviews.

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“I am not disheartened by these cases. In fact quite the opposite. Our domestic courts were beginning to develop impossible tests on what constitutes manifestation of Christian faith.

“They did not even accept the cross as a Christian symbol or the belief in sexual purity as a conscience issue for Christians.

“The European Court  of Human Rights has turned this jurisprudence on its head. The European Court has stated categorically that such beliefs flow from Christian faith and are worthy of protection.

“What we had hoped would happen was that the European Court would develop a test of ‘reasonable accommodation’. Had it done so, I think it would have been a lot more reasonable than anything we’re currently experiencing  in our domestic courts.

“Instead, the European Court said there was a ‘wide margin of appreciation’ (meaning discretion) for employers to exercise the balancing act between competing rights.

“Clearly had Relate accommodated Gary, Islington Council Lillian and Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Shirley, the European Court would also have seen no reason to interfere.

“This means that at the Christian Legal Centre we will now go into our domestic courts on our current cases with fantastic legal argument on our side.

“In the UK these  judgments have opened up numerous new legal arguments in our favour. We believe this is real legal success.

“I want to thank Paul Diamond, Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre, who has been making these arguments for Christian freedoms for over a decade.

“The tide is turning. And we will not give up until justice is done for every one of our clients.

“It is time for Christians to find their voice; their faith. To not be ashamed of Jesus; to make their faith public.”

Find out more about Gary McFarlane
Find out more about Shirley Chaplin
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