BHA applauds European Court of Human Rights in upholding equality and human rights principles against false ‘Christian Persecution’ cases

15 January, 2013

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has published its judgements in the cases of Chaplin v. the United Kingdom, Eweida v. the United Kingdom, Ladele v. the United Kingdom and McFarlane v. the United Kingdom. The court found in favour only of Nadia Eweida the former British Airways employee. The applicants, four practicing Christians, complain that domestic law failed to adequately protect their right to manifest their religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has applauded the ECtHR for ‘applying the right principles’ to the cases – principles of equality and human rights, and for dismissing three of the cases of alleged discrimination.

The cases involve:

  • Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to conduct same-sex partnerships because of her religion;
  • Gary McFarlane, who refused to treat gay couples equally with straight ones in his job as a counsellor at Relate because of his religion;
  • Shirley Chaplin, who refused an offer of wearing her cross on a pin and demanded to wear it on a chain, in spite of her employer saying this was dangerous in nursing;
  • Nadia Eweida, who demanded the right to wear a cross visibly in spite of a uniform code specifying no jewellery.

In all but the case of Eweida, the ECtHR found that the individuals’ human right to freedom of religion had not been unlawfully inhibited.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The European Court applied exactly the same tests and measures that we have been advocating for years. They asked the question “Will this manifestation of a person’s religion interfere with the rights of others?” In three out of the four cases they found it would and rightly dismissed them.

‘These cases have been repeatedly lost in court after court and have wasted an enormous amount of time just as they have generated a huge amount of unnecessarily divisive feeling amongst the public. The victim narrative that lies behind them, whipped up by the political Christian lobby groups that organise them and the socially conservative media that report them, has no basis in reality. The widespread misreporting of these cases under the guise of “Christian persecution” when they are anything but has undermined the chance of the public to get a really clear understanding of what the issues engaged by these cases really are.

‘What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles – principles which protect all people against unfair treatment – and we are pleased that the court has recognised this. All reasonable people will agree that there is scope in a secular democracy for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs when that accommodation does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. But if believers try to invoke their beliefs as a defence for treating other people badly – denying them a service because they are gay or claiming a right to preach at them in a professional context – the law is right to prevent them. It’s not persecution of Christians; it’s the maintenance of a civilised society for all.’


The BHA will be available for comment once the judgments are published. For comment and to arrange interviews please contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 020 3675 0959 or at or BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 0773 843 5059 or at

Read the ECtHR’s full judgement:

Read the ECtHR’s press release:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.