European Court of Human Rights refuses to hear appeals in three ‘Christian persecution’ cases

28 May, 2013

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has today rejected requests from Lillian Ladele, Gary McFarlane and Shirley Chaplin to have their cases heard by the Court’s final court of appeal, the Grand Chamber. The requests followed on from decisions against the claimants by the ECHR in January, and mean that the three cases will progress no further. The British Humanist Association (BHA) would have applied to intervene had the Court agreed to hear the appeals, and has today welcomed the news that it has not.

Lillian Ladele was a registrar who worked for Islington Council but refused to conduct same-sex civil partnerships because of her religion. Gary McFarlane was a relationship counsellor at Relate but refused to treat gay couples equally with straight ones because of his religion. Shirley Chaplin was a nurse working for Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital 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.

As a consequence, all three were disciplined or dismissed from their jobs, and all three subsequently challenged these decisions in the UK courts. All three lost successive court challenges in the UK until ultimately they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. In January they also lost at the ECtHR, but all three announced that they would appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber. The ECtHR has now refused to hear their appeals.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We welcome the European Court on Human Rights’ decision to refuse to hear appeals in the cases of Ladele, McFarlane and Chaplin. The only reason these cases have continued for so long is because of a determined lobby seeking to whip up a narrative of “Christian persecution”. However, this narrative is detached from the reality of simply trying to guarantee fair treatment for all, regardless of sexual orientation, and reasonable standards of health and safety.

‘Of course religious beliefs should be accommodated by our laws and society, but not when those beliefs impinge upon the rights and freedoms of others, and that is what these cases sought to do. We hope that society can now move on and focus on more pressing concerns.’


For comment please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 0773 843 5059 or at

Read the ECtHR’s full judgement from January:

Read the BHA’s previous 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.