I Believe

No. 37 of #50cases.

Human rights protect the right to believe in whatever god you want to, or gods, or no god. Of course they do. Human rights protections were drafted just moments after the Holocaust, a mass slaughter of Jews.

But what happens when practising what you believe means discriminating against another group protected under the Convention? That was the difficult question faced in a case involving four believers. All Christians. A counsellor, Gary McFarlane, who wouldn’t counsel gay couples. A registrar, Lillian Ladele, who wouldn’t register Civil Partnerships. And a nurse, Shirley Chaplin, and a British Airways air hostess, Nadia Eweida, who wanted to wear their crosses at work.

Nadia Eweida won. Although BA wanted to ‘project a corporate image’ with its previous uniform policy, it did not outweigh Eweida’s right to demonstrate her religion in public. Since the cross was discreet and did not negatively affect her ability to do her job, it did not need to be banned in the first place.

The others lost. In Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele’s cases, the court accepted they were sincere in their beliefs. But the judges were convinced that the counselling charity and local council they worked for had been right to discipline them. Because human rights are not just about expressing your beliefs. They are about living together. They are about equality, and that means making sure gay people are not discriminated against when accessing services.

Some people believe human rights focus too much on the individual. But they are also about community. About balancing different interests. About living together in dignity. This case is an example of how hard it can be to achieve that, no matter what you believe.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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