The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has launched a public consultation on the interpretation of human rights laws in religion or belief cases, after it was granted permission to intervene in four cases.
The consultation will help to form the EHRC’s intervention at the European Court of Human Rights in four cases claiming religious discrimination, which the EHRC describes as an “unprecedented opportunity to clarify the legal principles that should apply to claims of religious discrimination”.
One of the cases is Nadia Eweida’s discrimination claim against British Airways (BA), for refusing to let her wear a visible crucifix at work.
Eweida is taking case to the European Court of Human Rights after she lost her case at the Court of Appeal, which ruled that BA was not guilty of discrimination.
The EHRC will support Eweida’s case and that of Shirley Chaplin’s similar claim against the NHS for refusing to let her wear a crucifix at work for health and safety reasons, arguing that the employers interfered with the employees’ human right to manifest their religious beliefs
The two other cases involve a Christian registrar who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies and a Christian counsellor who refused to work with gay couples. In both of these cases, it was held that the employers’ indirectly discriminatory actions were justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
In the consultation, the EHRC will collect views on whether or not the correct principles were applied to the crucifix cases to ensure that the freedom of religion and belief under the European Convention on Human Rights was properly respected, and whether or not justification tests were correctly applied in the two cases involving Christians working with gay couples.
The EHRC will also consult on whether or not the concept of reasonable accommodation, currently only used in a similar way in disability discrimination law under employers’ duty to make reasonable adjustments, would be useful in cases concerning the manifestation of religious beliefs.