European Court: Religious Beliefs Do Not Trump Anti-Discrimination Law

The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that an individual’s religious beliefs cannot be used to justify violating anti-discrimination law. Among the plaintiffs was a civil registrar in London who lost her job after refusing to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Here’s an excerpt from a report on the ruling from the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT rights:

Commenting this landmark ruling, Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup, said: “With this ruling, the court has established that freedom of religion is an individual right. It is emphatically not a collective right to discriminate against LGBT people, women, or people of another faith or life stance.”

“Religious freedom is no ground for exemption from the law. The court showed conclusively that the principle of equality and equal treatment cannot be circumvented with a simple reference to religion.”

Michael Cashman MEP, Co-President of the LGBT Intergroup, added: “British law rightly protect LGBT people from discrimination, and there is no exemption for religious believers. Religion and belief are deeply private and personal, and should never be used to diminish the rights of others.”

Of course, as RD has repeatedly noted, US Catholic bishops and their conservative evangelical allies are waging a campaign to enshrine a very different definition of religious liberty into US law, and they are planning a second “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer. Look for religious right leaders to cite today’s ruling as “proof” of their claim that religious liberty and LGBT equality cannot coexist.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.