The UK Supreme Court has refused permission for an appeal in the case of Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar who was disciplined because of her stance on civil partnerships.
The nation’s highest court dismissed the application, claiming it “does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance.”
Miss Ladele says she is “disappointed” and feels her religious rights have been “trampled by another set of rights”. She is “actively considering” taking her legal fight to Europe.
The Supreme Court’s decision leaves Christians feeling sidelined and “let down”, according to Miss Ladele’s backers.
She was seeking to overturn a previous Court of Appeal decision that ruled Islington Council had treated her badly but it did not amount to religious discrimination.
Miss Ladele had been working at Islington Council for several years as a registrar of births, deaths and marriages with an “excellent” employment record.
When the law changed to permit homosexual civil partnerships, she politely requested an accommodation of her religious beliefs.
Mangers from Islington told an original employment tribunal that the council was able to deliver a “first class” civil partnership service without Miss Ladele’s involvement.
Despite this, bosses treated her request as a freestanding act of gross misconduct, threatened her with dismissal and passed confidential employment details about her to a staff LGBT forum.
Islington accepts that mistakes were made, and has apologised for them, but has repeatedly denied any religious discrimination.
Miss Ladele, speaking via her lawyer, said: “I am naturally disappointed by the Supreme Court’s rejection of my application for appeal. I am actively discussing with my lawyers the possibility of an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
“When the rights of different groups clash, as they have in my case, surely there must be a proportionate attempt to balance those competing rights. In my case, one set of rights was trampled by another set of rights. That cannot be right in a free and democratic society.
“I believe my case raises important issues of liberty that deserve further consideration by the courts.”
The costs of her legal action are being financed by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund. Spokesman Mike Judge said: “Christians will feel let down by the Supreme Court decision.
“It will only serve to reinforce the impression that Christians are being pushed to the sidelines of public life. Our nation’s highest court has effectively told them their concerns are not of general public importance.”
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, hailed the outcome. He said: “The Supreme Court’s decision not to grant permission to appeal is extremely welcome.
“A clear message has been sent out that those people providing public services or performing public functions, such as Civil Partnership ceremonies, have a duty to treat services users equally, with dignity and respect, as the public authority itself must.
“In a modern liberal democracy, there can be no ‘opt out’ for those who say they are unable to do their jobs because they wish to discriminate, even when that desire to discriminate derives from a religious belief.”
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “We are relieved that the Supreme Court has refused to hear this case.
“Had Ms Ladele’s case succeeded it would have completely undermined equal treatment under the law for gay people and unlocked the floodgates to many other damaging challenges to equality legislation.”
BBC News, 19 May 2008
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge debates the issue with Stonewall’s Derek Munn
BBC News, 10 July 2008
Miss Ladele wins her case at an employment tribunal
BBC News, 19 December 2008
Islington succeeds in overturning the earlier ruling