Courts should have done more to protect Christians affected by equality laws, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said.
In a significant development, the commission says judges have interpreted laws too narrowly, and set the bar too high for Christians to prove discrimination.
The commission also thinks employers should do more to “reasonably accommodate” employees with religious beliefs – just like they do with disabled staff.
It is a considerable shift in emphasis at the commission, which has in the past appeared to be hostile to religious liberty cases brought by Christians.
In one damaging case a lawyer for the commission suggested that Christian foster carers are a risk because they may ‘infect’ children.
In another instance, the commission funded a case against Christian B&B owners who restricted double rooms to married couples. When the commission won, its lawyers demanded a harsher penalty against the Christians.
And recently the commission’s chairman, Sir Trevor Phillips, caused damage when he said Christians were more militant than Muslims in making discrimination claims.
But now the Commission has announced that it will intervene – for the benefit of religious people and others – in four religious liberty cases heading for the European Court of Human Rights.
One of the cases is that of Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar who was disciplined by bosses at Islington Council because of her stance on homosexual civil partnerships.
She was disciplined when she asked for her religious beliefs about homosexual civil partnerships to be accommodated in the workplace. Her legal defence is being supported by The Christian Institute.
The three other cases heading for Europe involve two workers who were banned from wearing a cross, and a relationship counsellor who was dismissed for refusing to give sex advice to homosexuals.
The commission’s John Wadham said: “Our intervention in these cases would encourage judges to interpret the law more broadly and more clearly to the benefit of people who are religious and those who are not.
“The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades. It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.”
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We welcome this announcement from the commission. It will help Christians have more confidence that their genuine concerns are being listened to.
“Obviously, we await the precise details of the legal intervention by the commission, but we are encouraged by the tone of their announcement. It is a step in the right direction.
“We certainly believe more could be done to allow for a reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs in the workplace, and we hope that the courts will adopt a more tolerant approach to protecting religious liberty.”