Anti-gay group may now intervene at ECHR as views sought on exemptions

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

While Strasbourg is beset with controversy over the case of two workers who wish to avoid serving gays in the workplace, a conservative group from the US has added its voice in support of the workers’ claims of religious discrimination.

The Alliance Defense Fund has obtained permission from the European Court of Human Rights to intervene in a total of four appeal cases.

All four involve British people who claim to have suffered religious discrimination.

Two cases centre on the clash over gay rights and religious exemptions: Ms Ladele, a registrar in Islington, London, refused to conduct civil partnerships. Mr McFarlane, a sex counsellor from Bristol, said he could not counsel gay couples. Both sued their employers, and are appealing their cases in Europe.

The European Human Rights Commission back-pedalled last week over its controversial proposals to allow exemptions for religious workers in these circumstances.

Before its climbdown, the proposals were rationalised by the EHRC: “If given leave to intervene, the commission will argue that the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”

The ADF, who identify their goal as “through strategy, training, funding, and litigation, to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family” have stepped in on behalf of aggrieved religious people before.

The group was founded in 1994 by Christian leaders in Arizona, and it now opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples.

In 2006, the Fund established the Day of Truth “to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective”, where it encouraged an atmosphere in schools in which students could freely denounce same-sex relationships without falling foul of hate-speech rules.

In 2005 it aided the unsuccessful defence of a student who attempted to wear a T-shirt that bore the slogan “Be ashamed, our school embraced what God has condemned” and “Homosexuality is shameful” on the back.

At Strasbourg, the ECHR allows third-party intervention by any person concerned if it is considered to be in the interest of the proper administration of justice. They may submit written materials and attend hearings.

When the Commission first announced its intention to intervene in the cases, it said that laws could be changed to give religious people the right to manifest their faith, in a similar way to the legal adjustments and accommodations given to disabled employees. For example, allowing religious workers to swap shifts to avoid days when civil partnerships are booked.

Gay rights campaigners strongly criticised the body’s proposals, with Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill calling them “deeply disturbing”. Peter Tatchell called them “shocking” and “utterly appalling”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is holding a brief consultation on how it should advise in the cases.

You can air your views directly with the Commission until the 5th September by visiting the Commission’s website