Gary McFarlane, a former counsellor for Relate and a devout Christian, took his former employers to a tribunal for religious discrimination, after he was sacked for refusing to deal with lesbian and gay clients. The tribunal however has ruled against him:
Mr McFarlane, of Bristol, claimed unfair dismissal against the Avon branch of Relate on the grounds of religious discrimination, but an employment tribunal panel unanimously rejected his claim, though the panel decided Mr McFarlane had been wrongfully dismissed as Relate had not followed the correct dismissal procedures.
The panel said Mr McFarlane’s claim had failed because: “The claimant was not treated as he was because of his Christian faith, but because (Relate) believed that he would not comply with its policies and that it would have treated anyone else of whom that was believed, regardless of religion, in the same way.”
Mr McFarlane’s boss at Relate had said during an earlier hearing that he had been sacked because he made it clear that he would not abide by its equal opportunities policy, which states that all clients must be treated in the same way, regardless of sexuality.
After the ruling, Mr McFarlane said: “If I were a Muslim, this would not have happened. But Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights.”
Absolute nonsense. We live in a country where Christians have more rights than any other religious group, but being Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Jewish doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate. The ruling that his sacking was unfair because the correct dismissal procedure I’m sure was just, but it’s a relief that yet another tribunal has ruled that arch theists are not allowed to pick and choose who they’re prepared and not prepared to serve when employed in public service, based on their religion. This follows on from the appeal tribunal in December which ruled that Lillian Ladele was also not discriminated against on the grounds of her religion. Both Relate and Islington Council had equal opportunities policies which they required all their employees to abide by, regardless of their religion. Both organisations were equally bound by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, and it’s a relief to see tribunals ruling every time now that religious equality legislation cannot be reinterpreted as a licence for bigotry. A spokesman for Relate said:
“This important decision validates Relate’s commitment to equality of access to our services.
“Our trusted service, both in Avon and across the country, relies on making respectful and professional counselling and sex therapy available equally to all members of our society, regardless of their gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or relationship status, and we take every effort to balance rights which may be competing.
“We recognise the importance of people’s religious beliefs to them and we are committed to supporting all religions working within Relate.
“However, our primary responsibility is to our clients who often need complex advice and assistance.
“We cannot allow anything to damage our clients or to undermine the principle of trust that underpins our work.”