Fire kristne briter har anlagt sak mot den britiske regjeringen i Den europeiske menneskerettighetsdomstolen (EMD). De fire mener seg diskriminert på grunn av sin kristne tro, og saken skal høres i EMD i dag.
Saksøkerne er Shirley Chaplin, som sluttet etter 30 år som sykepleier fordi hun følte seg tvunget til å velge mellom jobben og sin kristne tro da den offentlige helsetjenesten ba henne fjerne et krusifiks hun hadde hatt rundt halsen siden hun var 16. Til tross for at Chaplin hadde båret krusifikset i tre tiår uten klager, ble sølvanhenget klassifisert som en helse- og sikkerhetsrisiko og da hun nektet å ta det av, ble hun fjernet fra all pasientkontakt og satt til å gjøre administrative oppgaver. Saksøker nummer to er Nadia Eweida, som ble nektet av arbeidsgiveren British Airways — som for øvrig tillater ansatte å bruke hijab — å bære et kors rundt halsen.
Gary McFarlane er en samlivsrådgiver som fikk sparken fordi han uttalte at han kanskje ikke ville følse seg komfortabel med å gi sexterapi til homofile par, mens Lilian Ladele ble disiplinert av bystyret i Islington for å ha nektet å utføre partnerskapsseremonier for homofile par.
– Jeg er ikke ute etter å starte en revolusjon. Jeg er en veldig ordinær person med tro – og jeg mener at tro blir underminert i dette landet, sier Chaplin til The Telegraph i sakens anledning.
On the day in 2009 when she was told by a senior matron to remove the crucifix, “because it was a piece of jewellery”, Mrs Chaplin protested, explaining that it was a token of her faith. She says: “To me it is like a wedding band — I had agreed to devote my life to my faith, and this was the outward sign of it. I couldn’t just take it off.”
She was summoned to a meeting, the first of many.
Managers insisted that wearing the symbol contravened the uniform policy, and said she should instead place it in her pocket.
“They just didn’t get it,” she says. “The idea that I should be embarrassed by my faith, that I should be ashamed and hide it away? I wasn’t prepared to do that.”
When Mrs Chaplin pointed to a clause in the policy that said exceptions could be made for faith, the trust insisted the chain posed a health and safety risk, arguing that a disturbed patient could grab it and do her harm. She offered to use a magnetic clasp, which would open in such an event, but trust managers were not interested, she says.
After several warnings, she was moved to an administrative role. “I felt like a naughty child,” she says, and felt particularly upset by how senior nurses and managers then seemed to perceive her.
“I had devoted 30 years to nursing, I had thought I was respected. But in their eyes, I was not a professional nurse: now I was a nuisance, a trouble-maker. They actually saw me as a danger to patients,” she says, shaking her head in despair.
It felt like a test of her beliefs, which she had always held quietly, not being one to impose her views on others.
Det kristne juridiske senter støttet Chaplin i en rettssak mot arbeidsgiveren. Chaplin tapte og sluttet umiddelbart i jobben, men valgte å ta saken videre til EMD:
“My husband said to me: ‘If you start this journey you have to be prepared to go all the way.’ ”
Did she have any idea then where that could take her? She roars with laughter. “No, I had no idea.”
It is, in fact, taking her to Strasbourg, as one of four Christians united in the belief that Britain is failing to protect their right to faith. On Tuesday they will appeal against their treatment, before returning home to await a court judgment several weeks later.
They claim that British laws have failed to uphold their freedom of religion under the European Convention on Human Rights nor protected them from discrimination.
Saken har allerede fått flere ledende geistlige på banen. Den tidligere biskopen av Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali, har sendt EMD et 11-sider dokument der han skriver at de kristnes rettigheter har blitt utradert i møtet med en «stadig mer aggressiv sekularisme», mens britisk rett tillater andre religiøse symboler som muslimenes hijab og sikhenes turban.
Den tidligere erkebiskopen av Canterbury, Lord Carey, har gått enda hardere ut, og hevder at Storbritannias moralske kompass har blitt ødelagt fordi kristne blir «forfulgt» av britisk rett og drevet «under jorden».
Den britiske regjeringen forsvarer seg med at siden kors ikke er et «krav» i kristendommen, kan arbeidgivere forby bruken av slike symboler og avskjedige ansatte som gjør det.
Innenfor den offentlige helsetjenesten har imidlertid gjort kontroversielle innrømmelser til andre religioner. Mest kjent er saken fra 2010, da muslimske kvinner ble unntatt fra det vanlige klesreglementet som tilsier at helsearbeidere skal ha bare armer nedenfor albuen for å hindre spredning av superbakterier.
– I Storbritannia er det mye snakk om kulturelt mangfold, toleranse for forekjellige religioner og viktigheten av å omfavne hele samfunnet, men dette ser ikke ut til å omfatte kristne, sier Chaplin.
Eighty miles away, in a village outside Bristol, Gary McFarlane is also preparing for Tuesday’s case.
Like Mrs Chaplin, he is supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights barrister.
Mr McFarlane, 51, was a partner in a legal firm when he decided to train to become a relationship counsellor with Relate in 2003.
The father-of-two moved to Britain from Jamaica when he was six, becoming a Christian at the age of 17, and became interested in counselling through voluntary work with church youth groups and Sunday school.
After almost two decades working in the law, he decided to return to his early ambitions.
After completing a two-year course to become a counsellor, and seeing clients for two years, Mr McFarlane undertook further training in couples counselling and sex therapy, as these were areas in which he wanted to specialise.
By 2007 he had almost completed the training in couples counselling. The final lecture of that summer term was a screening of the film Brokeback Mountain, which follows the relationship of two cowboys who fall in love with each other.
Mr McFarlane, who was struggling with his own personal life as his marriage broke down, decided not to attend.
“I’m not prudish, I’m pretty worldly wise, but I was exhausted, and I decided not to go,” he says. “I thought I don’t really want to see a film where two guys are kissing each other, I didn’t really want the images in my head.”
He shared this view with no one, he says. Later, it transpired that his non-attendance was reported to his manager in the Avon branch of Relate. Mr McFarlane continued working as a counsellor, and training in sex therapy.
But one days towards the end of the year, he arrived at work to be suddenly asked by his manager what his position would be about providing sex therapy to same-sex couples.
The counsellor says: “My response was, ‘I don’t really know.’ That was my honest answer – I really hadn’t thought about it; it had never come up as an issue.”
He was instantly suspended.
EMDs dom faller om noen uker. Det skal bli interessant å se hvordan domstolen forholder seg til britiske myndigheters forskjellsbehandling av religioner, idet de oppkaster seg til autoriteter over hva som er nødvendig for de enkelte utøvere av disse, og samtidig gir etter for de mest kravstore.