Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is bearing witness to the European Court of Human Rights that the UK is “a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by state bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong. It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom. Christians are excluded from many sectors of employment simply because of their beliefs; beliefs which are not contrary to the public good.”
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Exodus 20.16
Lord Carey is not talking about Christians at prayer being dragged from the steps of St Pauls by riot police a few weeks ago. That aspect of the moral and ethical compass of the UK is apparently of less than no concern to him.
He’s talking about a nurse who wanted to wear chain jewellery, which is not allowed whether or not a cross hangs from the chain; a flight attendant who wanted to wear chain jewellery outside her uniform, which was not allowed whether or not a cross hangs from her chain; about a man who lied to his employer in order to get special training; and about a woman who wished to be allowed to refuse to do her job because she didn’t like gay people.
Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Exodus 23.1
Shirley Chaplin was employed by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust hospital. Like most hospitals all over the world, they had a strict rule about visible or dangly jewellery. (Nurses discuss this case at Nursinglink.) Shirley Chaplin wanted to wear a necklace with a crucifix. The hospital refused, because they do not allow nurses to wear necklaces while on duty. She counterproposed pinning the crucifix as a brooch to her uniform, but that isn’t allowed either: nurses don’t wear brooches on duty. Chaplin was moved to a paperwork role where she wouldn’t care for patients directly and so could wear her necklace.
This is religious persecution? To be moved to another job because you’re not allowed to wear a dangly necklace? When Carey’s next in hospital, does he want to be helped by a nurse who thinks patient safety and hygiene standards are less important than making a show of her belief (Chaplin apparently felt that if people couldn’t see her crucifix, she was being asked to “hide her faith”) – or by professionals who put safety and hygiene first?
I don’t believe anyone who looks at Shirley Chaplin’s case for more than five minutes would think “Oooo RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION!” It is not persecution for a nurse or a doctor to be required by professional standards to put patient care first.
So why is Lord Carey testifying to the European Court of Human Justice that Christians are “virtually banned” from nursing because they’re not allowed to wear necklaces?
Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. Deuteronomy 5.20
Nadia Eweida, a BA flight attendant, also wanted to wear a necklace at work and justified this as a faith symbol which she ought to be allowed to display, as Sikh men were allowed to wear the iron bangle and Muslim women allowed to wear a headscarf. British Airways argued that their ban was on visible jewellery at work. Eweida was suspended on unpaid leave in 2006, but in 2007 BA amended their uniform policy which now allowed employees to wear jewellery in order to display their faith and Eweida returned to work.
This is religious persecution?
Amrit Lalji, employed by Eurest UK in a British Airways VIP lounge in Heathrow’s Terminal 1, was sacked on 13 September 2007 for refusing to take out her nose stud, which was part of her Hindu faith. Her union says that it was only when a BA representative complained about Lalji’s nose stud, after she’d been working their more than a year, that Eurest UK started disciplinary proceedings. “GMB wants BA to step in to secure Amrit Lalji’s immediate reinstatement, without any loss of pay. BA has the experience after the crucifix dispute to resolve dress code issues relating to religion.” Lalji too was reinstated: a spokesman for Eurest said that the company had discovered that “the rules relating to facial piercings are mandatory only in catering operations”.
Naturally Lord Carey wouldn’t give a damn about Amrit Lalji: she’s a Hindu, he’s only in the business of caring about Christians.
Nonetheless: it is worth pointing out that neither woman lost her job permanently, and indeed after Nadia Eweida’s case, BA actually changed the rules to allow for employees who felt strongly that they must wear a crucifix to work.
This is religious persecution?
He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said … Thou shalt not bear false witness, Matthew 19.18
Gary McFarlane was employed by Relate Avon as a couple counsellor. Relate offers continuing professional development. McFarlane wanted to train to give psychosexual therapy. But he didn’t want to have to give psychosexual therapy to same-sex couples. He lost his job in 2008 because he lied to his employer, saying he would give therapy to same-sex couples, got into the Relate psychosexual training course, then admitted a few months later that he wouldn’t. Relate has a strict equal opportunities policy, which requires all their counsellors to provide help to couples of any race or religion, same-sex and mixed-sex couples, without discrimination.
If you know your employer has specific standards to which you have to comply in order to get ongoing professional training, and you lie to your employer that you will comply to their standards and get this training, and then it comes out that you were lying and you are then sacked… this is religious persecution?
Is Lord Carey under the impression that lying to your employer to get training for a better job is just part of the moral and ethical Christian compass?
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25
Lillian Ladele‘s case is one I have a lot more sympathy with. She was employed by Islington Council as a registrar. Ladele came back to work after long sick leave in 2005, to find that the Civil Partnership Act was about to become law, and like all the other registrars, she would be required to perform civil partnership ceremonies.
Ladele didn’t want to do this, and there followed several months in which her employers appear not to have treated this carefully at all – she was moved off Saturdays with consequent loss of pay because Saturdays have the most registration ceremonies, other employees knew she’d refused and some were upset by this – there was enough evidence of her being harassed at work for refusing for an industrial tribunal to initially uphold her claim for unfair dismissal.
But a civil partnership is not a religious ceremony. It is explicitly a secular event. It is a service provided by government employees. Even if you allow the principle that discrimination against lesbian and gay people is a Christian value – as Lord Carey apparently does – it is still permissable for a secular employer to tell a religious employee that regardless of their religious beliefs about a Jewish man marrying a Gentile woman, or two divorced people getting hitched again, or that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to get legal recognition of their relationships, the secular employer is not paying secular wages to their secular employee so that the employee can refuse to do their job.
Lillian Ladele should not have been harassed at work. But her employer had a right to expect her to do her job. Sacking an employee for refusing to do their job is not religious persecution.
If Lord Carey wants to make a case that open discrimination against lesbian and gay people is the essential way in which Christians should be manifesting their faith, without which the ethical and moral Christian compass is broken, he could do worse than start with Lillian Ladele. But he’d have to take on Giles Fraser first.
My time at St Paul’s ended with the Occupy protest, a visceral cry against the desperate unfairness of a world built on vast inequalities of wealth. Occupy may have been evicted, but the issues about which it was angry will not go away.
The moral authority of the Church of England is premised on places like St Mary’s, Newington. The fact that the C of E has a presence in every community in the country, and particularly in those that are most often ignored, is what gives the Church its voice. But a voice to say what? As the local council concerns itself with regeneration, I will concern myself with resurrection. One challenge here will be to work out when these two things point in the same direction, and when they do not.
I do not even think Lord Carey believes the things he’s saying.
Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane were not subjected to religious discrimination: they were told to conform to the known professional requirements of their job.
Nadia Eweida, Amrit Lalji, and Lillian Ladele – all of whom are women of colour – may perhaps have a more solid claim that they were treated badly by their employers. But trying to make a case that this is wholesale religious persecution out of two jewellery incidents – both resolved in the employee’s favour – and a case of a registrar who thought homophobia was an essential part of being a Christian?
Lord Carey is bearing false witness to the European Court of Human Rights.
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. Matthew 20.18-20