Christian registrar loses job for refusing to officiate same-sex civil partnerships
What’s at Stake
The right to freedom of conscience
Lillian Ladele worked as a registrar for the London Borough of Islington for 10 years and had an exemplary track record. Her job involved registering births, deaths, and marriages. When same-sex civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, she found herself with an ethical dilemma. As a Christian, she felt that she could not, in good conscience, officiate at such ceremonies. Lillian could not have anticipated the lengthy legal battle that followed.
After initially voicing her objection, Lillian’s employer disciplined her, threatening to dismiss her. The borough then forced her out of her job, refusing to take Lillian’s religious convictions into account, or the fact that same-sex civil ceremonies weren’t in the job description when she first took the job. After facing this mistreatment, Lillian took the matter to court.
At first, the Employment Tribunal held that she had been discriminated against and harassed on the basis of her Christian faith. It looked like Lillian’s freedom of conscience would be protected, until later court rulings reversed the decision.
The Christian Institute, an allied organization of ADF International, supported Lillian’s case throughout. When the case reached the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2012, the court gave ADF International permission to submit legal arguments outlining the right to freedom of conscience in international law.
Lillian had hoped that the European Court would protect her freedom of conscience where the British courts had failed to do so. Her hopes were short lived. On 15 January 2013, the ECHR decided that the British courts were at liberty to rule against Lillian. However, two of the seven judges, Vučinič and De Gaetano, strongly believed that her freedom of religion had been violated.
In a robust defence of freedom of conscience, they stated: “We are of the view that once a genuine and serious case of conscientious objection is established, the State is obliged to respect the individual’s freedom of conscience… Freedom of conscience has in the past all too often been paid for in acts of heroism, whether at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or of a Nazi firing squad.”
Our Role in the Case
ADF International provided legal arguments to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Ms Ladele’s right to freedom of conscience was protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.