National Secular Society will advise in religious vs gay rights cases

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The National Secular Society has been granted permission to intervene in four religious rights cases due to come before the European Court of Human Rights.

The body will submit legal arguments in four cases where plaintiffs are appealing against UK court decisions – two of which involve Christian employees who refused to provide services to gay people.

The other two concern workers who were barred from wearing religious symbols.

Keith Porteous Wood, the executive director of the NSS, said his organisation would focus on legal arguments, rather than expressing opinions on the cases.

In the past, the NSS has praised judgements in the case of one of the plaintiffs, Islington registrar Lillian Ladele, who said her Christian faith meant she could not carry our civil partnerships.

Mr Porteous Wood said: “These four cases have a major bearing on the extent to which employees’ manifestation of their religion can impinge on others. We want to make sure that the European court considers all aspects of the relevant law.

“The NSS submission will deal with the implications for equal treatment that would be raised by the granting of greater protection to actions motivated by religious belief than is granted to actions motivated by fundamental beliefs that happen to be non-religious in nature.

“The NSS will further focus on the degree of protection which it is necessary under the convention to afford third parties who may be subjected to a detriment which is motivated by, or a manifestation of, a religious belief.

We will also deal with the significance of a religiously neutral public space for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

“Finally, we will address the nature of the limitations prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of the protection of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also applied to intervene in the four cases, which are likely to be heard together.

The commission stated last month that it believes ‘reasonable adjustments’ could be made for such employees in the same way that disabled people are accommodated in the workplace. This could mean allowing anti-gay Christian workers to swap shifts to avoid gay people.

After strong criticism from Stonewall, Peter Tatchell, trade unions and some MPs, the body appears to have decided not to argue for ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Former Stonewall chief executive Angela Mason, who is the body’s only LGBT commissioner, said this week that the EHRC had come to a “preliminary view” on the matter.

In response to emails from concerned readers, she wrote: “The commission has already decided not to put forward ‘reasonable adjustment’ arguments if we do continue with our intervention.”