Christian counsellor loses job after expressing concern over sex therapy to same-sex couples
What’s at Stake
The right to freedom of conscience
As a committed Christian and former elder of a large church in the UK, Gary McFarlane makes his faith central to everything he does. When Gary tried to apply his faith to his work as a counsellor, he found that his employer wasn’t so accommodating of it. In fact, neither were the British courts or the European Court of Human Rights.
Gary had previously worked as a lawyer, but left that profession to pursue a career as a relationship counsellor. After re-training, he took a job with Relate, a national counselling charity. He had a good track record at Relate and was well respected by colleagues. But when Gary raised concerns with his supervisor about giving sex therapy to same-sex couples, he wasn’t greeted with the understanding that he had hoped.
On the basis of his strong Christian faith, Gary was worried about being put in a situation where he would have to give very direct instructions on issues relating to same-sex behaviour. Other Relate counsellors were at hand to take on such potential cases, and Gary had never had to turn away a client. He merely expressed concern regarding a potential future conflict with his deeply-held Christian faith.
However, after voicing his concerns, Gary was put under investigation, suspended, and ultimately dismissed for gross misconduct. He lost his job and this led to him spending five years standing up for his faith in court. As a father of two, this left him struggling financially.
An allied organization of ADF International, the Christian Legal Centre, came to his defence. Barrister Paul Diamond represented Gary and argued before the British courts that his deeply held belief in marriage ought to be accommodated in the workplace. However, the courts said that his employer did not have to accommodate his Christian beliefs, and that there was no need to look for practical solutions. This decision failed to protect Gary’s right to freedom of conscience, so in 2012, he took his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Paul Coleman, senior legal counsel for ADF International, formed part of McFarlane’s legal team for the ECHR hearing. ADF International was also given permission to present written legal arguments to the court. However, the ECHR’s decision was just as disappointing as that of the British courts. On 15 January 2013, the Court decided that the British courts were not at fault in rejecting McFarlane’s freedom of conscience in the workplace.
Our Role in the Case
ADF International provided funding for Gary McFarlane’s case before the European Court of Human Rights and Paul Coleman assisted lead counsel, Paul Diamond, during the oral hearings. ADF International was also given permission to present written legal submissions to the European Court of Human Rights.