The ‘Christian persecution’ bandwagon train has today arrived in Strasbourg where four cases brought by disaffected Christians – all lost repeatedly in the English courts – will now be heard by the European Court of Human Rights. Apart from being an opportunity to hear those for whom ‘Europe’ and ‘Human Rights’ are usually dirty words suddenly discover a whole new love for Strasbourg, the beginning of hearings today gives us an opportunity to look again at the whole Christian victim narrative phenomenon again.
The cases being heard are:
- Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to register civil partnerships.
- Gary McFarlane, the Relate counselor who agreed to abide by the Equal Opportunities policy of his employer, but then decided he would not give relationship advice to gay people.
- Shirley Chaplin, who was moved to a desk job by the hospital where she was a nurse after refusing to remove a chain carrying her cross and pin it to her uniform.
- Nadia Eweida, who in 2004 decide she was no longer willing to wear her cross under her British Airways uniform but wished to display it.
(On the cases themselves, by the way, the religious think-tank Ekklesia provides useful detail not often reported in the media)
The cases themselves are not particularly interesting – they are clear cases where the employees in question have breached their contracts of employment, and they have been lost at every hearing they have had.
What is more interesting is the way the cases are being presented and used by the Christian lobby groups bringing and supporting them.
They are using the disconnected cases of these four people as hooks for their own anger that fewer and fewer people are Christians in Britain today and they are weaving them together into a fiction of systematic discrimination against Christians. This is wrong because…
…it is a distortion of reality. The story they are telling has it that Christians are being marginalised from public life and persecuted at work, when in fact churches retain enormous privileges and there is no evidence at all that employment discrimination against Christians is a real phenomenon.
What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is often in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles which protect Christians as much as anyone else.
…it devalues the real importance of freedom of belief. Freedom of religion and belief is a precious freedom, but its interests are not best served by attempting to talk up claims of persecution and discrimination. The narrative of systemic Christian persecution in the UK is a harmful fiction that only pollutes dialogue between people of different beliefs, and has no basis in reality.
UPDATE – 11/09/12
Someone has now put a video of the Sky News discussion on YouTube. (Note that the introduction somewhat misrepresents the facts of the cases, as has been consistent in the media coverage of these cases):