CAIRO - Europe's top rights court is considering complaints of discrimination by four British Christians, who were sacked from their jobs for wearing crosses and refusing to deal with homosexuals.
Many believe it is unfair that hard-working public servants and employees are being discriminated against simply because of their faith, Andrea Minichiello Williams, a lawyer and founder of the Christian Legal Center, told The New York Times on Wednesday, September 5.
If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equality Act and other diversity legislation will be overhauled, so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their beliefs and conscience.
Four Christians have filed lawsuits at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights for being discriminated against over their religious beliefs.
One of the plaintiffs, Nadia Eweida, lost her job at British Airways in 2006 for refusing to remove or conceal a cross she wore around her neck in violation of the company's dress code.
Another Christian, Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, was taken off ward duties for wearing a crucifix necklace, which was seen by her hospital as posing a health and safety threat to patients.
Both cases were dismissed by British labor courts.
Two other Christians were sacked from their jobs for refusing to deal with homosexuals.
Lillian Ladele, a municipal official, was sacked after refusing to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples.
Gary McFarlane, a relationship counselor, was also fired for refusing to give sex advice for homosexual couples.
[They] believe that homosexual relationships are contrary to God's law and that it is incompatible with their beliefs to do anything to condone homosexuality, the court said in a release detailing the cases.
The four Christians say British laws failed to protect their rights and respect European human rights legislation that bans religious discrimination and allows freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The British government, however, insisted that the religious rights were only protected in the private sphere and not in the workplace.
"The petitioners had the possibility of expressing their religious convictions outside of the professional sphere," lawyer James Eadie, representing the government, told the court.
He argued that expressions of belief "were not absolute rights, or rights without limits".
"Employers cannot be forced to accommodate (the) religious beliefs of employees who do not wish to provide services to the public or a section of a public.
A decision from the European rights court, a body under the aegis of the Council of Europe, could take several months.
Rulings from the rights court cannot be appealed and signatories must comply or risk exclusion from the Council of Europe.
In the past, the court has given considerable leeway to member states to regulate the wearing of religious dress and display religious symbols in public, especially in cases involving Muslim dress.
In one previous case, the court ruled that a French school could make its Muslim students remove their hijab during sports classes for safety reasons.In another, it found that an Italian state school did not violate the rights to religious freedom or education by displaying crucifixes in classrooms.