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Religious discrimination at work debate occurring across the pond

We have previously written that illegal discrimination in the workplace occurs all too frequently. However, determining what is and what is not illegal discrimination in practice can sometimes be a tricky business. The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering an issue that has become more and more concerning in American workplaces: what does religious discrimination in the workplace look like?

Religious belief is a deeply personal choice, yet manifestations of that belief are often quite public in nature. When is it illegal to prohibit displays of religious affiliation in the workplace and when is it not?

The European Court of Human Rights is considering whether four Christian British citizens were illegally disciplined for allegedly religious displays of faith in the workplace. Two were disciplined for wearing necklaces bearing crucifixes while at work, one was disciplined for refusing to officiate ceremonies cementing civil partnerships for same-sex unions, and one was fired from his position as a relationship counselor after refusing to counsel homosexual couples on their relationship issues.

In England, as in America, the law protects individuals from workplace discrimination based on religion and protects from infringement on "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" generally. However, this protection does not extend to every display of faith or action taken in the name of religious belief.

Regardless of what decision the Court comes to in regards to these alleged displays of faith in the workplace, the case highlights the fact that the debate over religious discrimination in employment is active, contentious and extends beyond America's borders.

Source: International Herald Tribune, "Christians Claim Workplace Discrimination in Landmark Case," Harvey Morris, Sep. 5, 2012

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