The Church of England, concerned with how employers have been interpreting the country's equality laws, has called on lawmakers to intervene and ensure that the rights of Christians are protected in the workplace.
Church officials revealed Monday that they met with government officials to discuss the severe reaction of employers who discover their Christian employees talking about their faith with co-workers or wearing a cross on the job.
Pointing to cases in which employers have taken a no zero policy with Christians making expressions of their faith in the workplace, Philip Giddings, chairman of the Church's Mission and Public Affairs Council, said during the Church’s General Synod Monday that there was indeed a cause for alarm.
There are dozens of cases that have gone through England's courts regarding Christians being driven out from their jobs for such reasons, with employers appealing to the equality act. Church officials noted that judges had routinely sided with employers.
Last year a Christian nurse was denied the right to wear her crucifix while working on a National Health Service ward. An employment tribunal decided that wearing the cross was not mandatory for her faith, it was reported in the media.
In April, a Christian electrician was eventually allowed by his employer to continue displaying a cross on his van dashboard after he was previously ordered to remove it by the company.
“Christians across the country are being persecuted because of their faith,” Colin Atkinson told the Daily Mail amid his victory. “I have not bashed anybody with my Bible. I simply want to be able to demonstrate my faith.”
Giddings told those gathered at Monday's synod, “The law does not prevent Christians from expressing their views at work.”
He added, “The law, rightly, expects everyone, including those of no faith, to act with due respect for other people's rights and duties in the field of religion or belief.”
Giddings informed the group that Church officials had held a “sympathetic hearing” with government officials and they would continue to monitor how employers interpret the equality law in light of their Christian employees.
The British home office says the Equality Act 2010 is meant to ban “unfair treatment and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society.”
“Religion or belief” is among the nine explicitly stated grounds for protection by the law, which “protects everyone against unfair treatment,” according to the government.
In what's being called a landmark case, judges on the European Court of Human Rights have ordered lawmakers to make a formal statement as to whether they believe Christians' rights have been violated by previous decisions in the British courts.
The move by the European court in Strasbourg comes after Christians who believe they have suffered discrimination for their beliefs have appealed to the court to review their cases. Four cases in particular have been chosen by the European Court for potential review, reports the Telegraph.
Members of the Human Rights Commission have said in a public statement that they have asked the European court to take part in the review to express their belief that “the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”
'The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades,” said John Wadham, Group Director at the Commission.
“It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.”