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While paving the way for a number of similar ‘religious obligations’ versus ‘convention rights’ cases, this protracted legal discourse reveals a number of indiscretions, that in many respects, served to influence legislative and educational policy in the United Kingdom, and illustrate how laws evolve through the integration of cultural norms and progressive state cohabitation.
After working as a supply teacher within the mainstream schools arena for a considerable number of years, an Islamic man took issue with the government, upon grounds that his need (or at least doctrinal requirement) to attend a mosque on Friday afternoons was being denied by statute; and that subsequent operational policy created the violation of a number of constitutional rights afforded to all citizens of the United Kingdom.
Citing art.9(1) of the ECHR (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and art.14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicant protested that s.30 of the Education Act 1994 stood in immediate conflict with his need to manifest his religious beliefs every Friday between the hours of 1.30pm to 2.15pm. Having been employed by a number of London Borough schools prior to his decision to resign, rather than reduce his working hours; the man had been given verbal allowances by one school, and shown strict opposition by another, which bore an inconsistent position of unwillingness to accommodate a religious need, which until recently, had never been expressed nor discussed at the time of his original appointment.
When it was submitted that the repeated failure of a Muslim man to attend a mosque (subject to relative distances) would likely result in a beheading in a country such as Saudi Arabia, the applicant expected that the same principles would apply under domestic jurisdiction, and that those grounds, along with previous (albeit unofficial) allowances were sufficient enough to warrant time taken from his contractual duties, despite any inconvenience to teaching staff, pupils or the school as a whole.
After failing to find those arguments upheld in the domestic courts, the matter wound up before the European Commission for Human Rights, where it was unanimously decided that the terms of the Convention were constructed in such as fashion as to allow interpretation and consideration of all religions and beliefs, not just those of the applicant; and yet when willingly accepting a position of employment that brings with it a set of express and implied terms, the accepting individual takes ownership of how that agreement might impinge upon their religious requirements or obligations of faith, and must therefore act accordingly.
“[E]ven a person at liberty may, in the exercise of his freedom to manifest his religion, have to take into account his particular professional or contractual position.”
“[T]he applicant, of his own free will, accepted teaching obligations under his contract with the ILEA, and that it was a result of this contract that he found himself unable ‘to work with the ILEA and to attend Friday prayers’.”
“[T]he freedom of religion, as guaranteed by Article 9, is not absolute, but subject to the limitations set out in Article 9 (2). Moreover, it may, as regards the modality of a particular religious manifestation, be influenced by the situation of the person claiming that freedom.”