Landmark Christian freedom cases proceed to next stage

22 April 2013

Three Christians whose cases were rejected by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier this year have requested a referral to the Grand Chamber.


Lawyers acting for Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele have submitted papers asking for a fresh consideration of the cases by the Grand Chamber in an attempt to overturn the rulings of the ECHR.


In January, the ECHR admitted that there had been an infringement upon the rights of all three individuals under Article 9 of the European Covention on Human Rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion). But it ruled that the circumstances of each case justified that interference, and that the UK courts had acted within the “margin of appreciation” (discretion) given to national courts.

In a written submission to the chamber, it has been argued that the margin of appreciation has been applied in these cases so as to render the protections under Article 9 meaningless, and that UK judges are effectively outlawing Christian beliefs through a one-sided application of human rights law in favour of minority groups.


“The United Kingdom has an overall good record on human rights; in recent years this has come into sharp contrast due to a number of decisions made against Christians,” the submission says.

“Christian views on the upbringing of children by two parents have not been recognised as a religious view at all; whilst views on global warming, fox hunting, and even the BBC as a public broadcaster have been recognised.”

In Gary and Lillian’s case, the ECHR ruled that an infringement upon their religious freedom was necessary in order to protect the freedom of others, whilst in Shirley’s case it said that a similar interference was justified on the grounds of “health and safety”.


The papers argue that Gary “was dismissed for his ‘thoughts’ and ‘religious beliefs’ on a wholly theoretical basis,” and that the case “directly raises the question of conscience and ‘thought crime.’”  Whilst “self-evidently absurd” health and safety rules were being used as a “ruse” to stop Christians from wearing the cross at work.

The submission also notes that Lillian’s case will have “huge implications” for the freedom of teachers and social workers to practice traditional beliefs on sexual ethics should same-sex ‘marriage’ be introduced in the UK.


Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Gary and Shirley, said: “We are throwing down the gauntlet to David Cameron to decide once and for all whether he is in favour of religious freedom or not.

“These are cases where the only victims were the Christians trying to live out their faith in the workplace but who were driven out for doing so.

“As the pleadings in Gary McFarlane’s case make clear, Christians are now being punished for ‘thought crimes’.”

In the press:


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