Three UK Christians lost their legal challenges over workplace discrimination at the European Court of Human Rights in May.
Gary McFarlane, Shirley Chaplin and Lillian Ladele had requested a referral after losing their appeals to the Strasbourg court in January.
They appealed to the court alongside check-in worker Nadia Eweida, who won her discrimination claim against British Airways after being banned from wearing a cross at work. But the Grand Chamber of the Council of Europe rejected the request for referral from them.
Nurse Shirley Chaplin was removed from front-line ward duties for refusing to remove a cross necklace, but the court ruled there were legitimate health and safety concerns.
Relationships counsellor Gary McFarlane was dismissed for gross misconduct after telling his employer he could not in conscience provide sex therapy to same-sex couples, while registrar Lillian Ladele was disciplined after asking her employer to be exempt from registering same-sex couples.
The court determined that both employers were acting in accordance with their obligations under discrimination law.
The ruling prompted calls for stronger protections to be included in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mr McFarlane and Ms Chaplin, said the Prime Minister’s assurances of freedom of conscience if the Bill becomes law are ‘worthless’.
Andrea Minichiello Williams said the Grand Chamber’s decision to reject the referrals means that the European court ‘cannot be relied on’ to protect freedom of conscience for Christians in the UK.
She said, ‘With sexual orientation a “protected characteristic” under UK equality laws, Christians’ consciences concerning marriage and sexual ethics are not protected. We have seen time and again in British courts that when they come into conflict, sexual orientation rights trump freedom of religion rights’.