A UK Christian woman who left her job after her employers pressured her to work Sundays lost her legal appeal on Thursday.
Celestina Mba told the Merton Council before she was hired several years ago that she could not work Sundays at the Brightwell Respite Care House, where she provided care for children with disabilities, according to the Christian Legal Centre (CLC). After two years of employment, however, the council began ordering her to work Sundays.
Mba said in a statement that her employers should have found someone else to take the Sunday shifts, and that she even "offered to take unpopular shifts and work anti-socials in order to protect Sundays."
"They were trying to break my faith and see if I really believed in the Lord's Day," she said. "Merton disrespected my Christian faith. I said to the Court that the Council would not treat other faiths like they treat Christians. It was like giving pork to a Muslim every meal-time and then disciplining them for not eating it!"
The three Court of Appeal judges decided to dismiss Mba's case, though they also pointed out legal errors in earlier rulings by the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal. The tribunals previously ruled that the Sunday Sabbath is not a "core component" of the Christian faith, though the Court of Appeal acknowledged that it is a valid expression of faith for many believers.
"It is clear…that, for some Christians, working on Sundays is unacceptable," wrote Lord Justice Maurice Kay in his opinion. "It is also clear that Mrs. Mba's religious belief genuinely embraces that injunction."
Merton Council leader Stephen Alambritis says the council is satisfied with the court's decision.
"Children in local authority care who have severe disabilities and who need weekend support, and their families who rely on this support, can feel reassured that their children's care and support will be consistent," he said, according to Your Local Guardian.
He later added, "Wherever possible, we accommodate our employees' needs and requirements."
Mba was represented in the case by Paul Diamond, a barrister with the CLC. Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of the CLC, said in a statement that Mba "loved her job" and "paid a high price for her Christian faith."
"We believe if the Court of Appeal had been prepared to consider the facts according to the correct test, Celestina would have won. The onus should be on the employer to reasonably accommodate their employee," said Williams.
"However, this judgment is a big step forward for proper treatment of Christians and is an important victory. At last the courts are beginning to demonstrate greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Christian identity extends beyond private belief into daily life. We pray that the tide is turning."
But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said in a statement that nothing has changed. Employers are already required to make accommodations for religious requests, he said, except when such requests would negatively affect a business.
"If Ms. Mba had won her case it could have potentially caused chaos in the workplace because other religions also have holy days that believers might want to observe. A ruling in favor of Ms. Mba would have also had to be extended to all other faiths," said Sanderson.
"It's not hard to imagine the negative impact on some businesses it [sic] all the Christians wanted Sunday off and all the Muslims wanted Friday off and all the Jews wanted Saturday off."
More than half (56 percent) of people who live in the London Borough of Merton are Christian, according to the 2011 census.