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January 04, 2013

Movsesian on Concerning Developments in the UK

My colleague, Mark Movsesian, has a very worthwhile post on a couple of cases in Great Britain involving several infringements of religious liberty that have recently been ratified by the government.  Here's a chunk from Mark's post:

In England, a High Court judge recently ruled that employers may discipline observant Christians who refuse to work Sundays.

The case involves Ms. Celestina Mba, who worked as a caregiver in a government-run children’s center. A devout Baptist, she goes to church every Sunday and does not wish to work on that day. When her employer — a government agency, note, in a state with an established church — pressured her to work Sundays, she quit and sued for employment discrimination. She lost at trial and, last month, in the High Court as well.

Why did she lose? English law allows employers to require employees to work Sundays if there is “a legitimate business need.” According to press reports, though, the High Court did not rely on that principle in Ms. Mba’s case. Rather, the court reasoned that Christianity did not require Sabbath observance in the first place. Plenty of Christians work Sundays, the court noted; only a few, like Ms. Mba, see it as a problem. As a result, religious freedom was not seriously implicated by requiring her to work. Employers, the court reasoned, do not need to accommodate outliers like Ms. Mba.

Now, this reasoning is very odd. The fact that some of those Christians who work Sundays might be doing so because they have to — that is, because otherwise they would lose their jobs — apparently did not occur to the court. Moreover, the fact that many Christians see no problem with working Sundays doesn’t mean that other Christians cannot have a legitimate religious objection. Courts don’t usually require that practices be “mainstream” within a religion in order to receive legal protection. Besides, attending church on Sundays is hardly an esoteric practice in Christianity. Many Christians are known to do it — though not in today’s England, I guess.

Posted by Marc DeGirolami on January 4, 2013 at 08:08 AM in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

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