Accommodating Religious Beliefs in a Secular Age: The Issue of Conscientious Objection in the Workplace
University of New South Wales Law Journal, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 281-299, 2011
20 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 3, 2011
This article explores the scope for freedom of conscience in the workplace when people of faith dissent from the values of the majority. In particular, it examines the issues in two English cases, Ladele v London Borough of Islington and McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd, in which professionals lost their jobs because they had a conscientious, and faith-based, objection to providing a particular kind of service to gay and lesbian couples. In the first case, a local government employee whose work involved celebrating marriages sought to be excused from performing ceremonies involving civil partnerships. In the second case, a relationships counselor qualified in sex therapy asked not to be rostered on to provide sex counseling to same-sex couples, although he was willing to provide general relationship counseling. Both were members of a disadvantaged minority ethnic group. The appeal courts rejected their claims for a remedy based upon religious freedom in both cases.
The argument of the article is that with more sensitivity to the human rights of everyone involved, conflict in these cases could have been avoided in a way that was principled and which involved equal respect for all. Furthermore, the courts should have provided a broader interpretation of religious freedom. Tolerance for different views in a multicultural society requires that there be some accommodation of moral dissenters, within reasonable limits, at least where their moral positions are based upon genuinely held religious belief. In these cases, the result of the decisions taken by the employers and the courts was that these workplaces became less diverse than they would otherwise have been if the pathways to peace had been properly explored.
Keywords: religious freedom, human rights, same-sex relationships, unfair dismissal, freedom of conscience, discrimination
JEL Classification: K10, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation