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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Christian registrar decision overturned on appeal

Press Release

Islington Council (in north London) has won its appeal today against a ruling that it unlawfully discriminated against a Christian registrar who refused to perform same-sex civil partnerships. The National Secular Society has hailed as “a victory for common sense” the overturning on appeal of the Employment Tribunal judgement against Islington Council in the case of Ms Lillian Ladele. Lillian Ladele had said she could not carry out same-sex ceremonies “as a matter of religious conscience” and a tribunal found in July that Islington Council had discriminated against her. But today an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) upheld the council’s appeal at a central London hearing.

Keith Porteous Wood Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “This is the just outcome for this case. Employees should not be able to use their consciences as a carte blanche to exempt themselves from performing duties they are lawfully required to perform.

“Religious adherents are becoming increasingly aggressive in insisting that their consciences should trump all laws. It is completely unreasonable for someone who works in a register office to be able to claim that they shouldn’t be obliged to officiate at civil partnerships introduced under legislation passed by Parliament. We understand this case was bankrolled by the Christian Institute.

“It was significant that Miss Ladele objected to officiating at civil partnerships, but she was perfectly happy doing so at the wedding ceremonies of divorcees, despite this also being frowned upon by the churches. Might it just be that Miss Ladele, or the Christian Institute, have a problem with homosexuality?

“We are especially pleased that the appeal has succeeded, otherwise we might have been faced with firemen refusing to rescue co-habiting couples from burning buildings, doctors refusing to treat people with HIV, or police officers refusing to come to the aid of unmarried mothers.”

This failure of this case follows several other tribunal decisions that have gone against religious employees — including the British Airways cross case, the Bishop of Hereford's withdrawal of a job offer to a gay man, which resulted in the diocese being heavily fined, and the family court magistrate who refused to rule on gay adoption cases.

Mr Porteous Wood continued: “We call on the Government to make the new Equalities Bill much stronger and include far fewer religious exemptions. Each religious exemption creates victims, those who lose out as a result of it. The 2003 employment regulations bent over backwards to give far too many religious exemptions and the National Secular Society has complained about these to the European Commission who are now taking infraction proceedings against the UK Government.

“We accept that the people behind this push to religionise our society are not the regular church-goers who generally wouldn't dream of behaving in this bigoted way. It is a small group of determined zealots who will not stop until we're all subject to their version of ‘religious freedom’ (which seems to mean freedom and privileges for them, and corresponding restrictions and burdens for others). Often behind the apparently vulnerable individuals who front such cases there stands a highly organised and well-funded pressure group.”


19 December 2008


Published Fri, 19 Dec 2008