European court: Religious freedom a right, but not an absolute one

Defining limits of religious expression in the workplace a thorny issue

Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17 2013 11:34 a.m. MST

Michael Powner, an employment law expert at Charles Russell LLP, said the court's judgment was "a sensible one, highlighting the balancing act that has to take place when different convention rights compete in different factual scenarios."

"One right does not automatically trump others," he said.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the verdicts were "an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense."

But religious groups said the rulings sent the message that sexual orientation trumps religion when it comes to rights.

Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, said the court "has shown a hierarchy of rights now exists in U.K. law."

"If we want to create a society that is diverse and can live with its deepest differences there needs to be a fuller protection for religious beliefs, convictions and actions," he said.

The court's rulings are binding on the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog. The losing claimants can try to appeal to the court's Grand Chamber, a higher panel of five judges.

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