The UK’s equality laws are acting as a “barrier to tolerant attitudes”, a barrister has warned in the wake of a landmark hearing on religious liberty.
Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) heard the cases of four Christians who say the UK Government has failed to protect their rights.
They include Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who was forced out of her job because she did not wish to conduct civil partnerships.
Commenting on the cases Jon Holbrook, a practising barrister, said: “What the cases actually show is that it is the equality laws themselves that are a barrier to tolerant attitudes.”
Mr Holbrook pointed out that Miss Ladele’s employer, Islington Council, “could have found other registrars to conduct” civil partnerships.
And while he acknowledged that the Court of Appeal had dismissed Miss Ladele’s discrimination claim “on no less than four grounds” he also noted the shortcomings of its reasoning.
Mr Holbrook, writing for the online publication Spiked, added: “What discrimination law does not and cannot do is come to the aid of those who suffer from a lack of tolerance.
“That Ladele was a victim of intolerance is clear from the fact that Islington could have accommodated her views and done so without harm being caused to anyone, save for those with an unreasonably sensitive disposition.”
Mr Holbrook warned that the problem “is not with laws per se”, pointing out that laws have been used to promote tolerance for centuries.
But he added: “Today’s laws do not have the promotion of tolerance, religious or otherwise, as an objective.
“Indeed, their very wording is concerned not to grant greater freedom, particularly from the state, but to restrict behaviour between individuals.”
He concluded: “If there are any lessons to be learnt from these court cases, it is that we need fewer laws and less reliance on them.
“That way we could move forward towards ‘a modern liberal democracy’ worthy of the description ‘liberal’.”
The ECHR heard the cases of the four Christians on 4 September.
During the hearing the Government’s lawyer, James Eadie QC, said that Christians should either leave their faith at home or resign and get another job.
The ECHR is expected to deliver its verdict in several months’ time.