A London court of appeals ruled Tuesday against a Christian registrar who refused to conduct a same-sex civil union ceremony because it violated her religious beliefs.
Lillian Ladele claimed she suffered discrimination, including being ridiculed and bullied, while working for the Islington City Council. Ladele had worked for the council for nearly 16 years, but did not experience discrimination until after she refused to perform the gay civil union.
Ladele’s attorney said she never wanted to undermine the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community. But human rights laws don’t only protect members of the LGBT community, but also people’s right to hold views about marriage.
Ladele said she was essentially forced to choose between her religious faith and her $50,000-a-year job.
“The decision of the Court of Appeal is another setback for Bible-believing Christians,” said Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of U.K.-based Christian Concern for our Nation, in a statement. “If this kind of legal precedent is followed it will prove increasingly difficult for Christians to participate fully in public life without contravening their conscience.”
Initially, the Employment Tribunal had ruled in favor of Ladele after the first court hearing in July 2008. The tribunal found that the council failed to respect its employee’s rights to her Christian beliefs. Moreover, the tribunal said the council could have other registrars who don’t hold the same beliefs to provide “first-class” service to same-sex couples without Ladele’s involvement.
The council “placed a greater value on the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community than it placed on the rights of Ms. Ladele as one holding an orthodox Christian belief,” the tribunal said.
But a December 2008 ruling by the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the initial decision, stating that the council had the right to require all its registrars to conduct all the services. On Tuesday, the court of appeals affirmed the appeal tribunal’s decision.
“Our public services are increasingly using equality and diversity policies to leave Christians sidelined and punished,” Williams said. “In effect this amounts to a religious bar to office.”
U.K. Christians have recently voiced alarm over the encroachment of their religious liberty in the name of equality.
In November, a court ruled against a Christian marriage counselor who refused to give sex therapy to a gay couple. Counselor Gary McFarlane said he believes the Bible teaches same-sex sexual practice is immoral and could not personally endorse homosexual relationships. He did not object to other counselors giving such couples advice.
However, his employer eventually fired him in early 2008 because of his religious views on homosexuality and his refusal to provide services to same-sex couples.
This week, the Christian Institute released a new report that asserts that Christians are being marginalized by equality and diversity laws “which leave them the first to be punished and the last to be protected.” The report noted the “growing sense of intolerance” felt by Christians in the United Kingdom.
“Christians wonder why they are not being treated equally and why diversity does not include them,” said Mike Judge, the head of communications at the Christian Institute. “This has led to a growing feeling that ‘equality and diversity’ is code for marginalizing Christian beliefs.”
Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has accused U.K. lawmakers of treating Christians like “oddballs.”
The Anglican leader also accused the government of treating religious groups as “slightly fishy interest groups” and said he would be “very glad” if they spoke up for faith this Christmas.
Williams made the comments in a recent interview with The Telegraph.