The courts are endangering religious freedom because the judiciary are giving it a lower priority than equality, a leading philosopher has claimed.
After studying a series of judgments throughout Britain, Europe and North America, he concluded there was a “clear trend” of judges favouring equality and non-discrimination over religious freedom.
Prof Trigg, a member of the university’s faculties of theology and philosophy, argued this was proof of how religion was coming under threat from the judiciary as part of a “hierarchy of rights”.
Prof Trigg, the founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, said that as a result the courts were “limiting human freedom itself”.
“Religious freedom and the right to manifest religious belief is a central part of every charter of human rights,” he said on the eve of the launch of his book on Wednesday.
“But in recent years there has been a clear trend for courts in Europe and North America to prioritise equality and non-discrimination above religion, placing the right to religious freedom in danger.
“There should not be a hierarchy of rights, but it should be possible to take account of all of them in some way.”
He added: "No State can be a functioning democracy unless it allows its citizens to manifest their beliefs about what is most important in life."
In a new book, titled Equality, Freedom and Religion, he warned of a “worrying” trend of the courts placing their own definitions of what is “core to a religion’s belief system”.
He called for the rights to be “balanced” and that “reasonable accommodation” should become a standard thought by judges.
Prof Trigg, a member of the university’s faculties of Theology and Philosophy, highlighted one case that had come before the European Court of Human Rights.
In that case a civil registrar from Islington had refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because of her religious beliefs.
He added: “It should have been easy to find a solution here … but the need to respect the right to equality trumped the freedom of religious convictions in this instance.
“The courts seem to have taken it upon themselves to decide what is and isn’t core to belief in a particular religion.”
Coverage of this issue in Christian Concern:
Published: January 26th, 2012
Leading philosopher Roger Trigg, a Professor at Kellogg College, Oxford, has warned of an increasing tendency in UK courts to prioritise equality above religion, thereby undermining religious freedom.
Professor Trigg, who is the founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion,stated that: “Religious freedom and the right to manifest religious belief is a central part of every charter of human rights.”
Yet he believes that the courts are now “limiting human freedom itself”.
Professor Trigg is launching a new book, “Equality, Freedom and Religion”, which cites numerous cases where religious freedom has been denied by the courts.
These include the cases of Lillian Ladele, who refused to conduct civil partnerships in her position as an Islington registrar due to a conscientious objection, and was subsequently sacked; and Nadia Eweida, who was disciplined for visibly wearing a crucifix pendant by her employer British Airways.
Balance of Rights
There have been many concerns that, within judicial interpretations of equality law, a hierarchy of rights has developed, with some rights now being seen as more important than others. Recent court decisions have suggested that the freedom to manifest sexual orientation now trumps the freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs.
This has led to Christians losing their jobs after refusing to compromise their beliefs at work as well as Christians being stopped from being foster parents.
Yet Professor Trigg argues in his new book that the courts need to hold the different rights in balance, and that “reasonable accommodation” should be the aim of every judge.
Using the example of Lillian Ladele, he commented that: “It should have been easy to find a solution here, but the need to respect the right to equality trumped the freedom of religious convictions in this instance.”
Christian Concern has supported many individuals who have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, including Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was told not to wear her cross at work; and Gary McFarlane, who was sacked because he mentioned that he may have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to homosexual men after the issue was discussed on a staff training day.
The cases of Lillian, Nadia, Gary and Shirley are all currently waiting to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.Any decision by the European Court on these cases will have huge consequences for the freedom of Christians in the UK and Europe to live by their beliefs in public.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently gave a speech in Oxford,on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, during which he proclaimed that Britain was a Christian nation and should continue to be informed by Christian moral values.
Yet, despite this, the Government has decided not to back the four Christians who have taken their cases to the European Court, but rather to argue that they were right to have been penalised.
And when asked about Eunice and Owen Johns, the Christian foster parents who were stopped from continuing to foster because of their Christian sexual ethics, the Prime Minister backed the decision of Derby Council and claimed that “Christians should be more tolerant”.
The decision not to back the four cases has been heavily criticised by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who stated: “I am very disappointed for the individuals concerned who have simply followed their conscience. Such is the result of a liberal establishment that has become deeply illiberal.”
Tory MP Gary Streeter is now leading a cross-party group of parliamentarians who are conducting an inquiry into discrimination against Christians. Christian Concern, along with other organisations, has been giving extensive evidence to the enquiry.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, commented:
“I have witnessed a real restriction of religious freedom in this country in the last few years. Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. This has to stop, and I believe that it will.”