Friday, June 7, 2013

It’s not that cross around your neck I object to…

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Last January, four Britons went before the European Court of Human Rights complaining that their religious rights had been trod on:
  • Nadia Eweida, a check-in attendant for British Airways was told by her employers that she could not wear a cross around her neck at work.
  • Shirley Chaplain wanted to wear a crucifix around her neck when she went to work as a geriatrics nurse.  Her employer claimed the cross was potentially unsanitary and possibly dangerous to her patients.
  • Gary MacFarlane was a couples counselor who said he couldn’t work with gay and lesbian couples, so the charity he worked for let him go.
  • Lillian Ladele worked in the registrar’s office in London, and lost her job when she refused to perform civil wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.

 The first plaintiff, Ms. Eweida, won her case.  There was no harm done to anybody, the court decided, by the quiet statement that one was a Christian.

At the same time, the other three plaintiffs lost their cases and were appealing to the court of last resort, the “Grand Chamber” of the same European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  On May 27, the Grand Chamber announced its decision.  They would not hear an appeal by Chaplain, MacFarlane and Ladele.

All four plaintiffs were being supported by the Christian Legal Centre of London, who argued that “sexual rights” (sic) should not trump “religious rights.”   

There is a terribly important distinction between the Eweida case on the one hand and the cases of the other three plaintiffs.   Trying to make the best of things, the Christians are pointing out, with justification, that the right to display religious symbols has been upheld. 

In my view that’s exactly as it should be.  It should be a trivial question, and an unnecessary one, whether one has the right to identify one’s religious beliefs.  Of course you should be able to say you believe the world rests on the back of a turtle.  And, other things being equal, you should not lose your job over that claim, or your right to rent a living space.

This item caught my attention because I’m waiting to hear how the Supreme Court is going to rule later this month on the rights of American citizens.  Official (hierarchy-centered) Catholics, for whom gays are “intrinsically disordered,” doctrinaire Southern Baptists and a whole bunch of big bucks Mormons are still doing their damnedest to claim the “one man/one woman” rule is all about culture and tradition, but the word is out now that this is a religious claim of the same order these institutions once used to label Africans the “Sons of Ham” and Jews the “killers of Christ.” 

Talk about “intrinsically disordered!”

Watch how this decision will be played here in this country by the religious right, now claiming that Christians are under attack.  “Because we can’t pray “in the name of Jesus” in public schools…  Because we can’t display a crèche in the town square at Christmas… Because we can’t use textbooks which claim the United States is a Christian nation.”

The Strasbourg Court got it just right.  A cross – or the six pointed Star of David or the five pointed Pentacle of the Wiccans – around your neck?  Be my guest.  Collecting a salary on taxpayer money and refusing to perform a legal ceremony your job requires?  Not so fast.

The distinction is not brain surgery or rocket science.

Let’s hope our Supreme Court can figure it out.

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