Today in Strasbourg, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights heard oral argument in four consolidated cases from the United Kingdom: Chaplin v. UK, Eweida v. UK, Ladele v. UK, and McFarlane v. UK. The applicants in these cases argue that UK courts failed to protect their Article 9 and Article 14 rights by allowing their employers to discipline them for practicing Christianity. Chaplin, a nurse, and Eweida, a British Airways employee, were forbidden by their employers from wearing cross necklaces at work. Ladele, a public registrar, lost her job when she declined, on the ground of religious conviction, to register same-sex civil partnerships. McFarlane, a psychotherapist, lost his job when he expressed doubts as a Christian about the morality of homosexual conduct.
For an American watching the webcast on the ECtHR’s website, today’s hearing offered some surprises. First, the argument was about two hours long, and the judges waited patiently to the end before asking any questions. A note to our readers in Europe: in an American courtroom, the judges would have interrupted in two minutes! Substantively, the counsel for the UK, James Eadie, made some claims that strike an American lawyer as remarkably broad. For example, he argued that Article 9 does not even cover the practice of wearing crosses. Article 9, he argued, only protects religious practices that are “generally recognized” within a religion, and there is no consensus in Christianity that adherents must wear crosses. I’m not aware of any analogous principle in American law. In response to Eadie, Eweida’s attorney, James Dingemans, scoffed at the idea that a practice must be “generally recognized” or “scripturally Read more