A tribute to Lillian

The Christian Institute’s Sam Webster made these comments on 27 October 2015, at the funeral of Christian registrar Lillian Ladele.

As the In-house Solicitor for The Christian Institute, it is a privilege to be asked to say a few words today about Lillian and her stand.
There really was something quite remarkable about the stand which Lillian took. In Lillian, God truly raised up a servant, placing her where she was at such a time as He did.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to count the cost, but few are called to do so in such a public way as Lillian Ladele, taking her case all the way from the town hall to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In this, Lillian exemplified some very special qualities – principle, courage, grace and selflessness.

Across the country there were a number of other registrars in similar situations to Lillian, but it was Lillian who pioneered a case in which she effectively defended the rights of all. Not just registrars, but all workers who find themselves in situations where their consciences won’t allow them to do what is being pressed upon them.

And what Lillian defended was – and is – very precious. She sought the right for Christians and others not to be forced to act against their core religious beliefs. Two of the European judges who heard Lillian’s case saw that her stand was one of freedom of conscience and cited that particular freedom to be foundational to other human rights.

Lillian was already on her case before The Christian Institute got involved, with help from Mark Jones. But the involvement of the Institute, through its Legal Defence Fund, meant that Lillian was able fully to pursue her case, as she wished. And we were able to give the necessary media and prayer support as well as friendship.

Of course, no one anticipated at the outset that Lillian would take her case all the way to Strasbourg. It is often forgotten that Lillian comprehensively won her claim in the Employment Tribunal. But her case was to take on national significance over the ensuing five years as senior judges and the establishment sought to overturn the judgment. And what Lillian was then defending was the judgment of an Employment Tribunal which had spent days painstakingly assessing the evidence and her dignified testimony on the witness stand.

It was a tough course, as Lillian became synonymous in the minds of the public, courts and commentators with the cause of religious freedom and liberty of conscience. But throughout she conducted herself with grace, dignity and with love for those with whom she profoundly disagreed.

Finally, I wish to say a few words about Lillian’s legacy. Ultimately, Lillian did not succeed on her appeal to Europe, but the truth is that she achieved a great deal through her stand.

Lillian’s case established principles which are now impacting other cases and situations for good. It is a tribute to Lillian that official guidance now prompts public authorities to explore how they might accommodate those with a conscientious objection, including registrars.

Secondly, Lillian’s case got our senior judges discussing how religious freedom could be better accommodated and that debate continues.

Thirdly, Lillian inspired many by her quiet and dignified example. She showed that it is possible to contend for truth, but to do so with great grace.

In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, Lillian obtained a good testimony; she lived by faith; and God is not ashamed to be called her God, for He has prepared a city for her.