LONDON, December 19, 2008 - London's Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has overturned a ruling that granted compensation to a U.K. registrar subjected to harassment and the potential loss of her job after refusing to conduct civil unions between same-sex couples.
The court ruled that Islington Council of north London had not unjustly discriminated against 47-year-old Lillian Ladele, who objected to involvement in the unions because of her Christian beliefs.
"The council were not taking disciplinary action against Ms Ladele for holding her religious beliefs," stated the EAT ruling. "They did so because she was refusing to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and this involved discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation."
Ladele brought her employer to court after she claimed she was bullied and treated as a "pariah" by her fellow employees because of her adherence to Christian beliefs on homosexuality. Ladele would not perform such ceremonies and instead arranged for other colleagues to handle them. Nonetheless, the Council accused her of gross misconduct and refused to consider her for promotion, eventually threatening to fire her if she did not conduct a homosexual union herself.
The Central London Employment Tribunal had unanimously agreed that Ladele's treatment amounted to religious discrimination and unlawful harassment. The Islington Council then took the case to the EAT, where they argued that Ladele's beliefs ought not interfere with her directive to provide equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation.
The EAT tribunal ruled in favor of the Council's interpretation, stating that the earlier tribunal had "erred in law" and there was no basis for concluding any discrimination against Ladele based on her religious beliefs had taken place.
“Let’s say I am an anarchist and I feel strongly that I want to go around blowing things up, but my employers object," EAT president Judge Patrick Elias told a tribunal hearing last week. "It may well be that anarchy is my genuinely held belief. But it does not mean that my employer’s decision not to allow me to [do so] is discriminating against that belief.”
Ladele plans to take her case to the Court of Appeal.
"Religious freedoms must be respected but not at the expense of upholding civil liberties for all," commented Sarah Ludford MEP, Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman, as reported by the U.K.'s homosexual news service PinkNews.com.
"But while the Labour government’s apparent indulgence of religiously-based prejudice could make it very difficult for lesbian and gay teachers to find work in faith schools, at least the Ladele case is an encouraging sign that UK courts will uphold the principle that religion cannot trump the right to equal treatment."
Ladele's lawyer Mark Jones said in a statement outside of court that Ladele "wants to make it clear that, whatever other commentators may have said, this case has never been an attempt to undermine the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender communities.
"The evidence showed that Lillian performed all of her duties to the same high standard for the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender communities, as she did for everyone. This case has been about the shortfall between the principle of equal dignity and respect for different lifestyles and world views, and Islington Council's treatment of Lillian Ladele - conduct which the tribunal felt moved to describe as extraordinary and unreasonable."
Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, expressed disappointment at the ruling. "Gay rights are not the only rights," he said. "If this decision is allowed to stand it will help squeeze out Christians from the public sphere because of their religious beliefs on ethical issues." The Christian Institute is a non-denominational Christian lobby group that supported Ladele's case.
In the words of registrar Elizabeth Thatcher, Civil marriage registrars who face losing their jobs for living their Christian beliefs are slowly entering a "climate of fear" created by the U.K.'s increasingly aggressive laws favoring universal acceptance for homosexual behavior.
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