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Tribunal ruling in London will encourage McArthurs

By Peter Lynas

Published 10/06/2015

Comments: Peter Lynas
Comments: Peter Lynas

A Christian nursery worker has won her employment tribunal in a case that will no doubt encourage the McArthur family and their legal team as they prepare to mount their appeal.

An employment tribunal in London has found that Sarah Mbuyi was directly discriminated against due to her belief that homosexual practice is contrary to the Bible.

Miss Mbuyi had been working in a nursery when a colleague had approached her and asked about religion, same-sex marriage and whether God would approve of her civil partnership.

Miss Mbuyi explained that: "No, God does not condone the practice of homosexuality, but does love you and you should come to Him as you are."

The colleague became upset and made a complaint that led to Miss Mbuyi being sacked for gross misconduct.

The tribunal found that Miss Mbuyi's belief was "worthy of respect in a democratic society, is not incompatible with human dignity and is not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others".

It decided that her employer's policy that there was a "prohibition on employees expressing adverse views on homosexuality and/or describing homosexuality as a sin" would have a "disparate impact on Christians holding similar views to Miss Mbuyi on the biblical teachings on practising homosexuality. That is not merely because a significantly higher proportion of Christians would hold such views but also because many evangelical Christians feel their faith compels them to share it".

The tribunal also found that the employer's investigation was hampered by "stereotypical assumptions about evangelical Christians" leading them to pre-judge the outcome of interpret evidence in an almost impossible way.

Employment tribunals have struggled over the years to understand the Christian faith and the freedom to live and speak it out in the workplace. The right of a British Airways worker to wear a cross at work was eventually upheld in the European Court of Human Rights. But in a linked case a registrar, Miss Ladele, lost her claim to discrimination for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies. That decision included two stinging dissenting judgments that were referred to in the Ashers case.

At last there are signs that the courts are recognising the need for reasonable accommodation. But much remains to be done as for too long courts have created a false hierarchy with winners and losers rather than seeking to balance freedom and equality. The first is easy, the second much harder. Time will tell how the Ashers' appeal will be treated.

  • Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance

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