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Human rights: dismissing church employees for adultery

I am indebted to the National Secular Society for highlighting a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which may yet be appealed further.

The Mormon church in Germany was entitled to dismiss a senior employee - the European Director for Public Relations - who admitted to his seniors that his marriage was failing and he had entered into an affair with another woman.

However, the Catholic church in Germany was wrong to dismiss an organist on similar grounds. An organist's marital status (or "bigamy" as the church preferred to call it in the proceedings) was not central to the church's credibility.

The latter case at least may well impact on the exemptions given in UK law to churches to discriminate on employment grounds when employing people for jobs e.g. in faith schools. The ECHR position appears to be that discrimination will only be permitted for very senior posts, or clerics, where to wilfully flout the church's teachings on e.g. marriage undermines the credibility of the church itself. It is hardly likely that could be said in the case of, say, a village primary school teacher.

It is depressing to note that both cases have taken some 12 years to get this far.



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