Wrong to penalise Christian registrar, consultation finds
Tue, 11 Oct 2011
The equality commission’s own consultation says they are backing the wrong side in the case of Lillian Ladele – a Christian registrar disciplined for her stance on civil partnerships.
The commission is backing the British courts, who have controversially ruled in favour of Miss Ladele’s employers at Islington Borough Council in London.
But a majority of respondents to the commission’s own consultation on this and other cases say the courts – and the commission – have got it wrong.
The commission is responsible for enforcing equality law in England. It held a consultation because it is intervening in four leading religious liberty cases heading for the European Court of Human Rights – including the case of Lillian Ladele.
A summary of consultation responses was published by the commission two weeks ago. Regarding the Ladele case, the summary stated: “the majority of responses expressed the view that the justification test had been applied incorrectly, and that the courts had come to the wrong conclusions.”
It continued: “Religious stakeholders generally thought that, in the case of Ladele, it was possible for her employer not to designate her for civil partnership duties.
“The employer would thereby accommodate her request without limiting or adversely affecting the civil partnership services provided to same-sex couples.
“They felt that the rights of same-sex couples were not in conflict with Ladele’s requested accommodation.
“Their perception was that Ladele had paid an unnecessarily high price – losing her job – to uphold the notional rights of others, which created a hierarchy of legal rights, where sexual orientation rights ‘trump’ religious rights.”
Legal observers also responded to the commission’s consultation. According to the summary, the legal observers said, “the courts were felt to be too focused on the employee and the employer promoting the legitimate aim of equality, and not sufficiently focused on other possibly less discriminatory options available to the employer.”
In 2006 Miss Ladele wrote to her employer, asking whether her religious beliefs could be accommodated so that she would not be forced to take part in civil partnership registrations.
But, just for asking the question, her bosses treated her letter as a freestanding act of misconduct. They disciplined her and threatened her with dismissal.
Miss Ladele’s lawyers say she was discriminated against and harassed in the workplace because of her Christian beliefs.
An employment tribunal agreed with her claim, but that finding was overturned on appeal to higher courts. The UK Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and it is now heading to the European Court of Human Rights.
Earlier this year the commission announced it would intervene in the Ladele case, and another three other religious liberty cases heading for Europe.
The commission initially said it would argue in favour of a ‘reasonable accommodation’ of religious beliefs. But this alarmed homosexual and secularist campaigners who wanted the commission to backtrack.
Angela Mason, former head of gay lobby group Stonewall, sits as an Equality Commissioner. She insisted the commission would perform a u-turn and support the decision of the British courts.
Shortly after, the commission changed its approach and said the British courts were right to side with Islington Council.