We tend to think of Europe as much more secularized than the U.S., but there’s a remnant of Christians in the U.K. who practice their faith vibrantly and openly.
British Christians have faced the same religious liberty threats that we’ve heard about here in the States, but a pair of recent victories have given Christians in the U.K. some encouragement and reasons to celebrate.
The first case bears a striking similarity to the Masterpiece Cake Shop case here in the U.S. In 2014, LGBT activist Gareth Lee entered Ashers Bakery in Belfast, asking the shop to bake a cake with the message, “Support Gay Marriage,” combined with the logo of Lee’s organization and the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie. The owners, Daniel and Amy McArthur, refused to do so, citing their Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
The McArthurs had served Lee as a customer before, but they wouldn’t agree to create a cake design that went against their convictions. Additionally, at the time, same-sex marriage was still illegal in Northern Ireland.
Lee sued the McArthurs and had the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, a taxpayer-funded entity, on his side. He won, but the McArthurs appealed the case all the way to the U.K.’s Supreme Court, where the court ruled in their favor in 2018.
The activist Lee wasn’t satisfied, and he took his case to the European Court of Human Rights. (It’s hard to imagine appealing to a court outside your own nation, but that’s how crazy Europe has become.) The court threw out Lee’s case on Thursday, noting that he hadn’t invoked the European Convention of Human Rights while the case was in the U.K. courts.
While this is basically a technicality, the U.K. Supreme Court ruling stands, and the McArthurs were triumphant.
The other case involves a Catholic nurse who faced harassment and discrimination because she wore a crucifix necklace at work.
Mary Onuoha had worked at Croydon University Hospital since 2001, but the cross around her neck didn’t become an issue until 2014, when hospital authorities told her that her necklace was a “health and safety risk.” Onuoha declined to remove the necklace, citing the importance of her Christian faith.
Repeated refusals followed repeated requests, and the hospital humiliated her by assigning her to do clerical work. Onuoha eventually resigned in 2020 over the hostility the hospital subjected her to, but she took her case to the employment panel of the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust — another entity funded by the British public.
The panel ruled in Onuoha’s favor, stating that the hospital treated the nurse unfairly.
“It was astonishing that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, was forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves,” said Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, a U.K. group that advocates for the religious liberty of Christians.
Both of these outcomes are encouraging for British Christians, but believers shouldn’t be surprised at the fact that these cases even happened. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18, ESV).
Still, Christians everywhere should be grateful that the McArthurs and Onuoha are free to practice their faith as they see fit.
As James Mildred at Premier Christianity noted:
What’s the big take home for those of us concerned about free speech? Let’s offer thanks for judges who have seen the wood from the trees in both cases. And let’s take courage – there’s still a legal right to believe in orthodox, Christian teaching and express that belief publicly in the UK.
These cases should give us courage indeed.