Is it your human right to wear a cross to work? Well, it depends…

by Joseph Markus

A human right to wear a cross?

Today a Chamber of the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in the much-anticipated cluster of cases, Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom. These cases courted controversy in the domestic courts due to what many on both sides of the debate saw as an important and apparently irresoluble conflict between the rights to manifest religious belief and the rights to non-discrimination held by, in these cases, homosexual individuals. Put into legal terms: the cases were about the alleged conflict between the rights of the applicants under Articles 9 and 14 of the Convention and the rights of others (broadly speaking – though never explicitly defined as – falling under Articles 8 and 14).

Four applicants meant four distinct groups of facts, although a number of common threads.

Ms Eweida was a British Airways check-in attendant. Her case was that the United Kingdom failed in its positive duty to uphold her rights under Article 9 in that the company would not allow her to wear a visible cross at work. Prior to her decision that her faith required her to wear a visible cross, Ms Eweida had quite happily worn a concealed cross. There had been no similar issues with other employees and BA did make allowance for the wearing of the kara and turbans in the case of Sikh employees. When she refused to remove or conceal the cross she was placed on unpaid leave. Later BA offered to redeploy her to a part of the organisation where she could wear a cross on top of her clothes and undertook to review its uniform code. However, before this could take place, Ms Eweida returned to work wearing a visible cross. Eventually BA did change its uniform policy.

Ms Chaplin was a geriatrics nurse at an NHS hospital. She also had worn a cross without problems for many years. Following a uniform change, which altered the necklines of the clothing that nurses wore and rendered the cross visible and accessible, she was prohibited from wearing it by management. She persisted in wearing the cross and was moved to non-nursing, administrative duties. Some compromise solutions were proposed but ultimately rejected by her. A grievance was not upheld for the reason that clinical safety – principally the risk that disturbed patients might grab the cross – required its removal.


Ms Lillian Ladele

Ms Ladele was a marriage registrar with Islington Borough Council, a self-consciously progressive and equal opportunities employer. She had originally begun work there before the Civil Partnerships Act was passed in 2004. She did not want to officiate at civil partnerships due to her faith. This caused a breakdown in relationships within the organisation. It also led to rota difficulties and placed a burden on other employees. A disciplinary process was initiated and she was subsequently dismissed. The decision was apparently motivated by two reasons: one was to ensure non-discriminatory access to service and the other was to uphold the reputation and image of the Council as a public sector equal opportunities employer.

Mr McFarlane was a relationship and psychosexual counsellor with Relate. Relate had in place equal opportunities and professional ethics policies. Following training on psychosexual counselling, he made clear that he did not want to provide such counselling to homosexual couples (although he would have continued to provide relationship counselling) on the basis of his religious beliefs. He, too, was dismissed following a disciplinary process.

Out of these four stories arise two separate issues. First is the issue of whether employer uniform codes can ban the wearing of religious clothing (this is Eweida and Chaplin). Second is the issue of whether an individual working within a larger organisation – whether public or private (the distinction is not so important given the Court’s stance on “positive” and “negative” duties) – is entitled to refuse to serve individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation (this is Ladele and McFarlane).

The interest created in the case can be gauged in the number of interested parties who submitted comments. In total twelve sets of comments were received and summarised in the judgment – a remarkable number even by the standards of some of the Court’s most controversial past rulings. Among them were comments from Liberty, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the National Secular Society and a number of others including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

A clear division of opinion emerged between the interveners. On one side were Liberty and the National Secular Society who argued for an approach that refused to tolerate direct discrimination on the explicit basis of sexual orientation. Their approach very much required the important principle of non-discrimination on the protected ground of sexual orientation to be accommodated by any religious rights. Liberty went so far as to suggest – arguably somewhat illiberally – that the Court might find it appropriate to apply Article 17, which denies the right to individuals to engage in activity that “aim[s] at the destruction” of any right (more information on Article 17 available here). On the other side were a number of bodies – including, notably, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (see this post for some background) – that argued for a principle of “reasonable accommodation” similar to that which exists under disability discrimination legislation.

What did the Court make of all this? Well, its decision was relatively predictable with one possible exception. No violations were found for any applicant except Ms Eweida. Even in Ms Eweida’s case the Court did not consider that the violation required an award of any significant sum in damages.

With Ms Eweida the Court decided that BA’s desire to protect its corporate image was not sufficiently important to displace her right to manifest her religion through wearing a visible cross. This relatively perfunctory analysis is criticised in the partially dissenting opinion of Judges Bratza and David Thór Björgvinsson as failing to do justice to the more nuanced reasoning of the Court of Appeal. The dissent highlights the lengths to which BA went to try to resolve the problem, culminating in a change to the uniform policy following consultation. The distinction drawn by the Court with Ms Chaplin’s case derived from the type of reasons given by the hospital for the uniform code. In her case, her uniform – and the ways in which it could be augmented – was dictated by clinical necessity: in the Court’s view, a somewhat firmer reason for refusal.

The remainder of the Court’s reasoning demonstrates a reluctance to step out from behind what it recognises to be an especially broad margin of appreciation. In fact the decision largely ducks what, for many, was most controversial: the questions of proportionality and “reasonable accommodation”.

This is broadly understandable. Consider, for instance, the level of interest, comment and disagreement. For example, the Court could have found that the goal of non-discriminatory service provision could be achieved by allowing Ms Ladele not to register civil partnerships. She was, after all, only one individual within a bigger organisation with, presumably, a number of other registrars. This, it could have found, would have been a “reasonable accommodation”. The proposal could well be moulded in a way similar to the conscientious objection exception contained in section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967. In fact this was the preferred proposal of Judges Vučinić and De Gaetano, who in a partial dissent placed emphasis on a perceived difference between the dictates of religion and of conscience (though their reference to the “obsessive political correctness” of Islington Borough Council does not help their analysis). But, that said, the Court would then have laid itself open to the criticism that it risked normalising what many would agree to be out-dated and discriminatory attitudes – attitudes that should be changed rather than protected by the state. The dilemma was enunciated nicely by Sachs J giving the leading judgment of the South African Constitutional Court in Christian Education South Africa v. Minister of Education, 2000 (4) SA 757:

“The underlying problem in any open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom in which conscientious and religious freedom has to be regarded with appropriate seriousness, is how far such democracy can and must go in allowing members of religious communities to define for themselves which laws they will obey and which not. Such a society can cohere only if all its participants accept that certain basic norms and standards are binding.”

The upshot is that the Court found the reasons given by Islington Borough Council and Relate to be adequate given the wide margin.

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Nevertheless the Court did make at least two improvements or clarifications to its case-law. First, at paragraph 82, the Court accepts that a manifestation of religious belief for the purposes of Article 9 need not be “mandated” by the religion. The question is whether the activity is “intimately linked” to the religion. Next, at paragraph 83, the judgment discusses when an “interference” with the right to manifest religious belief will be found. The judgment rejects the analysis that accepting a job represents a voluntary acceptance of any limitations imposed by that job. Similarly, the Court rejected in part the view of the National Secular Society that the “freedom to resign is the ultimate guarantee of freedom of conscience”. Instead the Court emphasised that an allegedly voluntary acceptance of such a limitation would only be considered at the justification stage. This aspect of the judgment is a useful clarification that recognises both the importance and reality of work in many peoples’ lives. It also appears to explicitly challenge the long-standing opinion of Lord Bingham expressed at paragraphs 23 and 24 of R (Begum) v. Headteacher and Governors of Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15 (though the practical effect on Article 9 cases is likely to be small).

What next? The decision is a clear contender for referral to the Grand Chamber. And in this fraught area of law and policy it must be at least likely that the Grand Chamber would accept any such referral. Ultimately, the decision we have is a compromise borne out of the Court’s general – and understandable – reluctance to commit itself in difficult areas of social policy. The slight exception is the finding of a violation in Ms Eweida’s case. However that finding is likely to remain rather limited in scope given the Court’s approach in the linked case. That said, I remain to be convinced that this was the wrong decision reached in the wrong way.

  1. senex72 said:

    Perhaps this whole tangle arises from a loss of nerve by our defenders of rights-based theories. The right of freedom of association includes the right not to associate. Stick to that and people are entitled to display emblems of affiliation and also indicate sexual choice,and by the same token entitled to decline service from,or giving service to, someone of whom they disapprove, as a fundamental matter of freedom. It is baulking at the right to refuse that causes the problems for these campaigners. In a similar way we have a right to know if we are receiving halal meat in schools and hospitals, or non-kosher food etc.,

    It is amusing that the stout defenders of rights and choices do not seem to have badges, such as membership blazons for the National Secular Society membership, to display, so far as I have seen; so conveniently dodging the practicalities of the issues..

  2. Andrew said:

    It’s the right decision for the right reasons. Religions can’t be placed in a higher precedence over other freedoms. Like all of them, they have to fit with basic laws and requirements. A personal opinion is not acceptable enough reason to discriminate against others, or to fail to do your job.

    • josephmarkus said:

      Andrew, I think we agree. The last sentence was put in the context of the use of the margin of appreciation rather than coming to an independent view. The Court arguably got the right conclusion while avoiding having to step on domestic toes.. It’s also a recognition of the quality of the reasoning the Ladele case, in particular.

  3. John D said:

    Ms Eweida was not an air steward but worked on the baggage check-in desk. Her conduct towards her employer was frankly questionable and the fact that she requested £30,000 compensation perhaps explains her motivation in this case. The fact that she was only awarded 2,000 Euros and costs indicates – in my opinion – that the jduges were not all that persuaded by her case. The other claimants all lost their cases so they received no compensation and will have to bear their own costs. It seems ultra-religious fundamentalists are also part of the so-called “compensation culture” these days.

    • josephmarkus said:

      Thanks for the correction – it’s changed.

  4. senex72 said:

    John D
    The fact that people have values and commitments no doubt makes them difficult to administer in a profit-goaled system. yes, since they are not interchangeable, bland production units: But that is no reason to sneer at them – rather the contrary -and certainly no reason to attack their fundamental humanity, their revolt against the Benthamite felicific calculus.: Man may be the only animal to have domesticated himself but that does not, and should not, destroy individual variation as it does in the social insects, let courts and employers wriggle as they will! Perhaps time to think again?.

  5. John D said:

    I have followed these four cases since the outset and my perception is that they are motivated by individual greed and encouraged by ideologically-driven fanatical religious fundamentalists. The former Relate counsellor went on a Sunday morning TV programme to put across his own spin on his case in the days prior to his case being heard in court. This can only be seen as a dishonest attempt to influence potential jurors or judges. As far as Bentham’s felicific calculus is concerned, I actually attempted to work out its practical application when an undergraduate – and came to the conclusion it just does not work. John Stuart Mill came to something of a similar conclusion, which is why he experienced a prolonged period of psychological depression as a young man. I am all in favour of differentiation; how else could we as a species possibly evolve otherwise? But these claimants – if successful – would achieve the opposite effect; they – and the rather more sinister individuals and groups behind them – want us all to return to the kind of society they view as golden and a halcyonic era in human history, i.e. an era when fundamentalist religion ruled everything. In those days, people who were different ended up being burned alive at the stake. Are you really sure you want to encourage these people?

    • senex72 said:

      Agreed utilitarian calculus is as I said bunk (unless you can predict future outcomes of decision with certainty i. e.. “greatest happiness”!) then on what grounds are we to deny these people their rights? You must be very unsure of your ground if you think other views are sinister, succeed only by underhand methods on TV etc. as you seem to suggest. Anyway guaranteeing people freedom to express their views and freedom of association is the very opposite of fundamentalist domination, isn’t it?,I suspect your opposition to freedom is rooted in your own fundamentalist view that people are so identical you can iron everything flat and fit them all into your particular square hole; you seek to deracinate people, to spit on their convictions, to deny the polytheism essential for liberty and the concomitant free clash of ideas! Your “liberty”is just a hollow continuation of the old desperate “three one and onlies” each vying for universal domination (Islam,Judaism, Christianity) under the mask of your own preferred version: I suggest time to reconsider, and accept that differences can be fundamental, irreconcilable and tolerable in the secular pantheon, as they were prior to the triumph of Christianity and barbarism…

  6. Rudge said:

    The Abortion Act of 1967 and some amendments since is mentioned to us during our medical training but I’m going to confess I’ve never quite known it’s proper wording beyond what some person in a seminar session told me.

    From what I gather, it means a healthcare professional, and most often a nurse or doctor, can refuse to be a part of the undertaking of an abortion (which a judge or multiple judges said includes referral to a service which does a full assessment and carries the termination out). I think they have to refer them to someone who can refer them and it has to be done in a timely manner. In the case of a doctor, they have to be a part of the process if it is a life threatening time-dependant issue (or can cause permanent physical or mental harm or something like that).

    Now I don’t know much about the contracts and law behind the work of counsellors, but I just wanted to clarify:

    – can counsellors object to giving advice to homosexuals on conscientious grounds if there were loads of other counsellors and it wouldn’t affect the care given to that couple? I don’t know how the contracts of GPs and counsellors differ and whether this matters, and I assume in the termination of pregnancy matter, there’s an underlying notion a doctor with an objection won’t be able to give fantastic advice due to their bias (and the nature of the issue means they can’t get past this bias in the same way doctors would be expected to do in other matters). Does the fact pregnancy is in it’s own way, a medical condition, that requires attention different from relationship difficulties (though clearly these can affect psychological as well as subsequently physical health) matter in these judgements?

    I’m always fascinated by these cases and how the various elements of law come together (so I assume there’s some Human Rights jazz on respecting religious observance which can clash with employers demands that employees do various shizzle).

    You may well have answered and tackled my various asked and unasked questions in your post, but I will claim fatigue / laziness got in the way.

    Out of interest, in your assessment of the law and legal judgements thus far, is there a discrepancy in the way different faiths are treated? A nurse was talking about the cross story (the one with the nurse who wasn’t allowed to wear it due to clinical reasons) and was having a classic “we get screwed over compared to other faiths” argument, and I didn’t know if it were true or not, so I couldn’t comment in support or against her point. I guess one would need to look at each employer’s regulations to see if they accommodate in equal fashion.

    I presume “ultra religious fundamentalist” is a referral to anyone who takes what they believe to be a religious belief into levels one thinks is a ‘bit dodge’, but I must say I do find it difficult to know who deserves that lovely label. I’d like to be an “ultra religious fundamentalist” through my strong belief that I don’t wish to explain the flaws in Daily Mail and Telegraph articles on medical care pathways to every patient for 6 hours. I am going to point blank refuse. I shall see you all in court.

  7. John D said:

    There was a court case in Scotland which resulted in the court rejecting an application by two nurses to be allowed to refuse indirect involvement in pregnancy terminations but they were allowed to refuse to be involved in direct participation, i.e. to be compelled to participate in the actual termination operation itself. So, where the role involves simply providing information, I believe the situation is that providing information cannot be refused or withheld but a practitioner is entitled to ask their employer to get someone else to directly participate in any such operations.
    The recent European Court of Human Rights ruling means that counsellors must be prepared to provide counselling to all those needing their service, regardless of their personal opinions or beliefs. Put simply, if they cannot reconcile their work of counselling with their personal beliefs, they should seek an alternative field of employment.
    Sikhs are treated differently in UK law, in that they cannot be compelled to wear crash helmets when riding motorcycles and they can refuse to wear protective head wear on building sites; though I am not sure this does them any great favours in reality. It is also the case that they are allowed to wear certain other items around their bodies, such as small knives and bangles, but these can usually be accommodated without much difficulty or controversy as they are largely hidden under their clothing.
    The nurse and the cross story was actually about hygiene, as the hospital authority for whom she worked did not want her item of personal jewellery possibly getting contaminated from wounds and then transferring germs or bacteria to other patients. The nurse acted unreasonably in insisting upon being allowed to wear her cross in medical/surgical situations, which English tribunals, courts and the ECHR all ruled was unreasonable behaviour on the part of the nurse.
    If you read the detailed court documents relating to these four cases, it is obvious that each of these individuals has been motivated be personal ideology and possible individual greed. In the case of Eweida, she claimed compensation of £30,000, though the ECHR only awarded her 2,000 Euros (about £1,600) and costs. The other three claimants lost their cases and will have to bear their own costs. Having said that, it is apparent that they were encouraged to bring these cases by the Christian Legal Centre – backed by a large American christian fundamentalist legal activism organisation – to adopt unreasonable stances towards their employers. This is typical of the creeping litigousness being encouraged from the USA which clearly holds democratic values in contempt and wishes to use legal means rather than democratic means to get laws changed.
    As for the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph accounts of court rulings, I suggest you suggest to the people seeking explanation or clarification to go on-line and read – in full – the actual court judgments. The press accounts either get it wrong or distort what was actually decided. This should come as no surprise as these media are there to provide entertainment, not accuracy. You should counsel your enquirers never to believe anything they read in newspapers and to check the original sources themselves.
    One final point: it seems to me that these court cases of “persecuted” Christians reveal they are anything but persecuted. The court system in our country has bent over backwards to accommodate, as did most of their employers. The media have largely come out of this exercise tarnished in terms of reporting the facts of the cases correctly. The human rights system has ended up looking robust and logical. The one aspect I still find troubling is that we seem to be influenced by American values of self-centredness and pushiness where these religiously motivated people are concerned. They seem to feel that just because they have strong personal beilefs everyone else should be compelled to recognise this fact and should be made to adjust themselves to the “believers”. They are clearly being encouraged in this bizarre mind set by American-funded organisations like Christian Legal Centre. The kind of values these people espouse are alien to us in the UK as they embody a form on one-sided intolerance of other people’s beliefs – which is highly un-British.

  8. senex72 said:

    I suspect efforts by human rights lawyers to exterpate Islamic practices such as female dress codes, arranged marriages and ritual slaughter, (let alone support for any debunking of their beliefs) will be very sparse compared to attacks on christian cross wearing, or organising support for discussions of the historical validity of claims made by the Islamic religion. But then who among them wants to appear beheaded in a faith video? with masked young men in the background chanting god is great? Or even have their windows smashed or be beaten up?

    My point is that a libertarian human rights state should defend our right to associate or not associate as we chose, and to speak freely, equally on all sides, and so far it does not. Otherwise how about organising a women’s rights campaign for the local mosque, banning veils and head scarves in public places and ending corporal punishment in faith schools?? Or is all this legalistic hair-splitting really no more than the money-making bluster some claim?

  9. John D said:

    I am afraid senex72 is talking nonsense – again. No human rights lawyers are out to extirpate religious beliefs or practices. There is a legal distinction between forced and arranged marriages, some of which affect Muslim people; some of which do not. The law is currently clear: forced marriages are unlawful but arranged marriages are not. Ritual slaughter is permitted on religous grounds in this country; I am not aware of any cases being pursued through the courts to ban it. There was a case – in Germany – where the outcome was that religious (as opposed to medically necessary) circumcision was equivalent to a physical assault on a child; as a result, circumcision practice for both Muslims and Jews has been halted in Germany while the law is sorted out in this regard. I do not believe that this problem has yet been addressed in the UK. As has been said repeatedly by lawyers, judges and commentators, the principal reason the hospital – in the case of Nurse Chaplin – instructed her to remove her cross and chain was because it represented a hygiene threat to patients.
    As for money-making bluster, it was Eweida who claimed £30,000 in compensation and I assume the others did likewise.
    I do not see that these claimants represent any particularly laudible example for any rational or decent person to follow.

    • senex72 said:

      I appear to have hit a raw nerve! Sorry!

      Still there are various types of nonsense, One might be when an operative from the lucrative human rights industry denounces an outsider for going for a relatively paltry £30 000. Another might be that the various ineradicable and irreconcilable superstitions to which men are prey can somehow be brought into a single scale of agreed judgement by the human rights movement. Another is that the elevation of “human rights” to judgement over matters of faith in God and His commands can be anything other (for the believer) than an attempted eradication of religion. in favour of superstitions about about Man and the Noble Savage. Another might be that a girl faced with an “arranged” but distasteful marriage will reap comfort from knowing that legally this might be distinct from a forced marriage. Another nonsense might be my hope that I could kindly relieve you of your intoxication by absurd “rational rights” delusions concerning men,tradition and conduct. Nevertheless let’s give it a go.

      The emergence of “the individual” (Self, Person, Animus etc) gives rise in modern society to the possibility of individual thought and action springing from but no longer wholly dictated by group norms. Unless I am much mistaken some such view would be implied by talk of rights, freedom and equality. This makes possible (but not inevitable) the emergence of a secular State on guard for the individual’s freedom from these other competing background claims.

      Supposing this is so, we face the snag that individuals may choose surrender instead of individuation (then we get smoke from the underground station, blood on the street, in the background young men shouting “god is great”) Yet modern people have freedom of choice – freedom to believe or not to believe, freedom of association and so freedom not to associate etc. So perhaps we do not protect religion enough as a valid free choice, however much we may dislike this or that outcome, AS LONG AS that choice is freely made by a functional individual. The current trend seems to be (a) a privatisation of belief and (b) the growth of informal,, ‘underground’ religion.

      Circumcising somebody (especially women) when young seems a non-consensual incorporation into a belief-system against which the secular State should guard; Wearing a cross when treating or serving somebody or at work does not (unless you insist customers be baptised first).But wearing a symbol of submission to a faith that precludes impartial treatment does: for example a Jewish dreadlock or star, or Muslim headgear or dress,when one would then refuse to serve pork or provide non-halal or “unclean” foods, or alcohol etc..does restrict the free choice of others and could be forbidden in a State institution or one serving the general public (as opposed to a club, temple etc).. In the same way the secular State might provide safe houses for girls (or men come to that) who want to leave a group or resist its decision relating to their marriage or non-sanctioned employment etc. So the outcome of such modernity, I suggest, is State-supported individual choice in a context of openly and freely-functioning social groups that individuals may join AND LEAVE freely. It certainly does not mean telling someone no to wear a cross at work,, or homosexuals to spend the night apart or at least on this occasion act with circumspection., provided no attempt is made to “cure” their homosexual condition in the process.

  10. senex72 said:

    PS: typo: read: “or not requesting homosexuals to….. in penultimate line

  11. John D said:

    I am not sure who you are referring to when you state ‘One might be when an operative from the lucrative human rights industry denounces an outsider for going for a relatively paltry £30 000’?

    • senex72 said:

      Probably it was not you, but someone seemed to go so far as to make a snide remark to the effect that one of the litigants was prompted by hope of material gain rather than justice;as though barristers etc work for free. not often perhaps for publicity and fees! That is the sort of nastiness barristers seem to be able on occasion to get away with in the court room since the public (ie the jury) who might complain are silenced by the system.; Somewhere too there it was I think suggested that their final defence was to give up the employment in these circumstances – which I suggest shows the nastiness of some “defenders of humanity” perhaps Anyway these are side issues in the present discussion..
      I got bad vibes from all that, but if I am mistaken apologise of course,

  12. senex72 said:

    To give you examples of the apparent unpleasant intolerance I have in mind, it might be seen in the following:

    “Ms Eweida was not an air steward but worked on the baggage check-in desk. Her conduct towards her employer was frankly questionable and the fact that she requested £30,000 compensation perhaps explains her motivation in this case” The sort of snide remark we can do without – after all the people bringing the case against probably had their own motivations and gain in mind, I suggest

    .”Put simply, if they cannot reconcile their work of counselling with their personal beliefs, they should seek an alternative field of employment ” seems pretty hard cheese. Surely a counsellor might say “I can’t really advise on this, perhaps contact Mr X” if, for example, they were asked to discuss circumcision but opposed it., for example should I resign if I cannot support infant female circumcision on religious and humanitarian grounds but am asked to give “impartial” advice.? Tom Paine might argue that tolerance of that sort amounts to indifference to the human outcome.

    “The nurse and the cross story was actually about hygiene, as the hospital authority for whom she worked did not want her item of personal jewellery possibly getting contaminated from wounds and then transferring germs or bacteria to other patients. The nurse acted unreasonably in insisting..” This looks like bunk,, and pretentious bunk at that in a hospital system unfortunately notorious for dirty wards, MRSA, and needless deaths: they could apply the cleansing processes to crosses etc that they should already be applying to their wards, surely; and as for being strangled by necklaces a weak safety link is not impossible.And of course like-minded people can collect funds, American or otherwise..

    Again to very briefly summarise my point: in a modern secular State support should be given for individuation, to an individual breaking-away from a set of beliefs or practices; this seems to me the essence of “human rights” – free expression, association(or refusal to associate), believe or not;. and also for recognition and expression of beliefs in public(and as you say in State or private organisations equally) provided no attempt is made to coerce others into joining although they may seek to do so.

    The present rather overbearing arrangements bid fair to bring the ideals of human rights and equality into widespread contempt, and may even lead to the repeal of the HR Act and EHRC. A useful introduction to the dynamics of that process can be found in G.Kepel’s book ‘The Revenge of God’ (Polity Press ISBN 0-74456-01269-5) which might serve to temper your apparent contempt for the newspapers and popular feelings: for all our sakes have a care! .

  13. John D said:

    senex72: you remain seemingly incapable of grasping the actual facts of these cases.
    It is not a snide remark to mention that Eweida claimed £30,000 in compensation; it is a fact. Read the actual judgment and you will see this fact mentioned there. Stop using subjective language to disguise the fact of your objective ignorance.
    Female genital circumcision is illegal in this country so you would not legally be able to advise upon it in this country. Fact.
    It is not bunk for a hospital to insist upon hygienic working practices. If you favour analogies, the same is true in situations like kitchens and food preparation areas. Anyone working in those situations would be told to work to exactly the same hygienic standards. Where hygiene and health are concerned, there is no place for individual discretion. The people involved in working in these areas either conform to standardised working practices or they find another job where such standards are not considered necessary.
    The other major point you seem incapable of understanding is that it was religiously motivated dupes who were encouraged to pursue these legal actions. Although barristers obviously get the work of representing all parties involved, it is not they who insisted on the cases being brought to tribunal, then to the English appeal courts and eventually to the European Court of Human Rights. It was the bleating religionists who ensured that these cases were paraded throughout the entire panoply of litigiousness – not anyone else.
    Ultimately, if these people were to succeed and ensure that their chosen belief is the only acceptable belief, this could usher in a new era where we experience a gradual downhill slide back towards the days when people are burned alive for their beliefs could become the norm in this country, once again. This is why these people’s insistence on special religious privilege and preference have to be resisted. It is only in this way that we will defend and safeguard the individual liberties and freedoms you say you hold dear.

  14. senex72 said:

    I think your spitting on people outside your legal bubble is a disaster for those of us who support individual rights. It is not whether or not people took such-and such a stand, but your insulting and despicable response to their so doling that troubles me, and your obsession with using what you see as “facts” .as a chance to have a go at them.

    There is absolutely no suggestion that “these people” – as you so charmingly refer to fellow human beings equal to you in all respects by your own account – would want to “succeed and ensure that their chosen belief is the only acceptable belief”; rather they desire to exercise their right to hold it and display that they hold it. and I contend that this is OK provided that it is displayed in such a way as NOT to remove the free choice from others; and that is what a modern secular State should ensure:it should ensure a burgeoning individuation.
    Once power falls into the hands of a particular philosophy whose supporters then become the supreme exegetes we have entered the most thorough totalitarian ‘democratic’ government; and this unfortunately would be typified by you and your dismissive attitude to views you regard as incorrect or improper..For you the Other become ” religiously motivated dupes ” wrongly encouraged to defend their claims;”bleating religionists who ensured that these cases were paraded throughout the entire panoply of litigiousness “. Is this the language of dispassionate assessment and concern for people’s rights? You display the whole panoply of Stalinist double-talk and falsification: you announce obvious truths (such as that hospitals have to maintain hygiene) so as to imply like some crafty lawyer that this was being denied, you accuse those whom you wish to disparage as being incapable of understanding, as holding false consciousness in the best 1984 dictator’s style. My response to that is not to proclaim some alternative ideology, but indicate to you and others that mere ideology is what you are peddling, just as certainly as we once had “the dictatorship of the proletariat” or “male supremacy”so now we have “human rightism”…

    In short “”Ideology cannot be used against itself, and in this sense the term ‘counter-ideology’ is false because a true counter-ideology would be an analysis which unmasked ideology for what it is:”.

    Read Orwell’s 1984; and Animal Farm. Stand unmasked, you..

  15. John D said:

    If Animal Farm is appropriate as you claim, then it is I who is Snowball and it is you who is Napoleon. If 1984 is also relevant then I see no character there to associate myself with but I do see you associated with O’Brien. I oppose the re-introduction of clerical law as part and parcel of an attempt to keep reactionary forces at bay in our society. I suspect we are probably a lot closer than you suspect in terms of valuing humankind and individual liberty. I want no part of any totalitarian ideology, whether religious or secular. I don’t care what these religious dupes choose to believe as long as they keep it to themselves. I don’t see any of them coming forward to defend themselves in these columns. Probably because they lack the legitimacy and literacy to do so. It is a fact that they have been lead by the nose by outfits like the Christian Legal Centre and their fascist American allies down a litigious road which has largely led them absolutely nowhere – and a good job too for all the sakes of peace and freedom loving people everywhere. Lenin once had a term for Bolshevik sympathisers: “Useful idiots”; their modern-day counterparts are these unintelligent inarticulate religionists today.

    • senex72 said:

      Well JohnD: old tactic: attack O’Brien though no-one has defended him to arrive at guilt by association.

      It seems clear enough now that you are engaged in an ideological battle, as damaging as any, and using liberty and rights as a cover for that. You are doing this rather than defend the modern State’;s role as a promoter of individuation and the right to equality of respect for belief and expression, which cuts both ways – their freedom of expression as well as yours..”Brother, I disagree with every word you say but would die for your right to say it” seems to have vanished from view. You seem to be as much a dupe of human rightism in your own way as they are of marvels and miracles. I defend my right to exit both. I suggest to you that intellectual, moral and social freedom can be summarised by interpretations of Plato’s cave; where men were chained in darkness facing moving pictures on the rear wall (like TV); and the valid response is to get up and look outside. But I don’t think you’ll find the Form of Truth out there, so much as escape delusions about it, via nescience, which ideologists find hard to accept. Loosen up, man, chill out!…

  16. John D said:

    senex72: you are being irrational again in citing Plato. You refer to chained men in a cave and then say ‘the valid response is to get up and look outside’. How can they do this if they are chained (from birth, as in the original) inside the cave? What you say is completely irrational. If they are chained inside the cave they are completely incapable of “getting up and looking outside”, are they not? Personally, I find these hypothetical examples slightly nonsensical, which is why I ordinarily would never cite them. Perhaps you should learn to think in future before you decide to employ them?

    • senex72 said:


      Plato’s Parable of the Cave—is a well-known allegory used in his work The Republic to illustrate “our nature in its education and want of education” (514a). .

      Plato lets Socrates describe a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato’s Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
      Have you ever discussed or read this under wise guidance? It would appear to be related to Plato’s theory of Forms and to freeing yourself from ideological illusions (not just epistemological ones) and I quoted is as fruit for thought. My suggestion is that you free yourself not by some alternative ideology of rights or whatever but by revealing ideology for what it is. Plato seems to suggest that your difficulty in doing so arises from lack of education, which I am trying to help you with…You might make more progress if you tried to overcome your resistance to ideas that seem unpalatable at first..

    • senex72 said:

      I’ll grant you this: you remain firmly chained in your cave John D, with a handy line of foolish invective too, it seems. “Abuse is no reply”.

  17. John D said:

    I suppose I should not be surprised that you appear to be so heavily influenced by Socratic thought. I find it unrealistic but – from the Socratic perspective of someone like yourself – that is the whole point. Not once have you been capable of addressing any factual or realistic point anywhere above. In that sense, you are a perfect Socratean. The real point of his cave anology – which you have not mentioned, so must be unaware of – is that it buttressed his belief in aristocracy.
    From his – and your – perspective, the vast majority of people in any society fail to grasp the ideal Forms that actually address apparent reality. Therefore, the vast majority of people in a society are incapable of providing wise rulership and should, therefore, be excluded from any form of participation in governance of a society. According to him – and you, perhaps? – only wise philosopher-kings should ever rule in any society. For myself, I reject his – and your – silly ideas, as I am a firm believer in the values of democracy. You worship him and his ideas, if you want to – I will not. While it may be understandable that Socrates held the ideas he did 3,500 years ago, you ought to understand that we all now live in a very different world and time. It is time you realised this and it is time you stopped being so stupid. Your pseudo-intellect is your least creditable aspect.

    • senex72 said:

      3500? It might be more convincing if you weren’t 1000 years or so out in your dates. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

      Your belief that you are “democratic” does not really fit with your notion that through your “human rights rule ok” attitude you can abuse and silece people as you please.
      My point was and is that in the Modern State we look to have our emerging individuation defended. We have as citizens a right to associate or not, to believe or not, to join or not. I wrote “Once power falls into the hands of a particular philosophy whose supporters then become the supreme exegetes we have entered the most thorough totalitarian government; and this unfortunately would be typified by you and your dismissive attitude to views you regard as incorrect or improper”. So you see I specifically reject “philosopher king” theories and that is why I reject the ideology of human rightism as an acceptable governing belief. Moreover I was careful to say Plato allowed his version of Socrates to say etc.. Making it clear that this is only Plato’s view. of Socrates, and that I doubted you would find the real form of truth, the Platonic ideologist’s hope.

      If we look at Socrates’ conduct and death, he argued (as I humbly agree) that we have a right and a duty always to question, and especially question prevailing views (“the gods”);and doing that is the greatest service we can render our fellow citizens; so much so that at his trial for causing people to ask questions he claimed the right to the same reward as a successful general would have got for defending the City. Rather than run away from that battle he did not go into exile (as was expected) but remained to die in the struggle, and not desert his post.

      Questioning the gods is not the same as forcing others to deny them and renounce their views, as on present showing you want to; on the contrary it is simply to advance nescience,to move us towards being, like Socrates, unsatisfied with prevailing but thoughtless views; rather than like pigs (or ideologucal prigs) accept what’s going without question. Reflect that your discourteous and brash language does more to discredit you than any opponents ever could.

  18. John D said:

    I think, finally, we are largely in agreement. Like you, I value individual freedom and the right of individual self-expression. This is why I do not want to be forced to live under Sharia Law or any other religious laws. I want to live under laws that we determine for our individual and societal good, where it is at all possible to resolve these different areas. I don’t care if these religiously motivated people want to walk around stark naked or covered-up from head to toe; just as long as they do not expect the rest of us to behave like them. We have come a long way since the days when people were burned at the stake or made to take hemlock because of their personal beliefs. I just do not want to see those days coming back. Not just for my own sake but for the sake of new, fresh and emerging generations yet to come.

    • senex72 said:

      Yes but people still have a right to be wrong, of you get my meaning. My safeguarding assertion is always the right to leave this or that set-up without punitive sanctions, the right to not believe as well as believe and speak. The British Republic’s defence of Independency in religous matters (though not then extended to Catholics of course, perhaps on grounds of the same fear of political imposition of uniformity that led Cromwell to put the Scots [former allies] down in battle at Coldstream for fear of Presbyterian uniformity by legal imposition); and above all its poet’s and Foreign Secretary Milton’s brilliant attack on all censorship: “I cannot defend a fugitive and cloistered virtue”.

      We all seem to exist with a background of tribal and in-group loyalties; and the normal is to trumpet and drum our way to conflict, imbued with noble aspirations. Only occasionally – as now I think – does individuation emerge into the public limelight at least partly unscathed. Prior to this thinkers were operating either in very confined circles, or had an exoteric and contrasting esoteric (secret) view for the sake of survival. A good example would be the Testament of Jean Meslier (16787-1729), the atheist priest, who functioned humanely and acceptably in his parish (with one official inquiry that cleared him I believe); while secretly making four hand-written copies of his book which attacked all fetters on human freedom and devastatingly exposed the absurdities of the Jesus-lovers. Religion is like a nail, the harder you hit it the further it goes in. So again I say: it is not in my view by some counter-ideology, some new super-kidology, but by defending the right to think reasonably and differently and to exist so, that individuation and the very existence of human individuality can be sustained. You could start by providing escape-routes for women in England’s Islamic back-streets, if you dare confront the historically normal supression of self-hood. I would counsel caution; I certainly do no think stoping cross-wearing contributes anything very significant at this stage, perhaps the opposite if it signals opposition to polygamous oppression and infidelity through hope of a “christian” ( ie voluntary between two committed individuals) marriage. In such cases where you are going depends on where you set out from.

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