Lillian Ladele and Discrimination

one gay member of staff felt that she was discriminating against homosexuals … I had staff who felt like second-class citizens because of the beliefs that Lillian had expressed’ - Lillian Ladele's manager, Helen Mendez-Child

Lillian Ladele has finally lost her case against Islington Council which had appealed an earlier decision that it had unlawfully discriminated against her when she refused as a public servant to administer her duties for same sex couples wanting to celebrate ‘gay weddings.’ In its judgement the Employment Appeals Tribunal found that:

The council were not taking disciplinary action against Ms Ladele for holding her religious beliefs. They did so because she was refusing to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and this involved discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

While the success of Islington Council is to be welcomed Ladele intends to try her luck in the Court of Appeal where she hopes a judicial figure with scant regard for secular space will side with her against the council and uphold her prejudice against gays.

In July in a display of arrant nonsense an Employment Tribunal found that Islington Council had illegally discriminated against Ladele. This was in effect giving license to some other would-be devotee of religious prejudice being able to discriminate in favour of those who like to mutilate the genitalia of their children on the grounds of religious quackery. Labour MP Diane Abbott immediately hit out against the decision, arguing that public servants should not be allowed to discriminate because of their personal prejudices and ‘self-defined religious beliefs.’ She then tabled a motion urging government ministers to amend the law so that the arbitrary power to exercise bias would be removed from people like Ladele.

After being gifted the favourable outcome by the Employment Tribunal, Ladele proclaimed a ‘victory for religious liberty.’ In truth it amounted to little more than legitimacy for a religious assault on the liberty of others.

Ladele had defended her own stance on the grounds of ‘religious conscience.’ What she really meant is that on the basis of her own religious bias she should have the right to decide what members of the public can be deemed unworthy of the public services she was paid £31 000 a year out of the public purse to provide to all without prejudice; that she should have the right enshrined in law to discriminate against others who did not subscribe to her own narrow mindedness. The subjects of this bias are people who in all good reason expect to be able to exercise freedom of choice underpinned by the Enlightenment value of freedom from religion. What right has Ladele or any other religious dictator to abrogate that freedom?

The Christian Institute’s appropriately named Mike Judge backed Ladele, judgementally claiming the course followed by Islington Council was about ‘wanting to get rid of Lillian Ladele because of her religious beliefs … it was not personal but ideological. Christians have rights too.’ True. The right to discriminate however in public life is not one of those rights. Public space is a level playing field where people of all religious denominations or none should go unhindered by the personal prejudices of others.

Ladele had claimed to have suffered ridicule and bullying because of the position she had taken. Bullying has no place in the workplace and it is on that practice that the Employment Tribunal should have directed its focus not on ridicule per se. If ridicule is used to bully then its bullying properties should be stripped from it. Ridicule on its own – that goes with the turf. Hold what others regard as ridiculous beliefs and ridicule is what you get. None of us should be protected from that. The positive benefits of ridicule were so demonstrable in Ireland where it played a major part in undermining the dictatorship of the bishops and winning substantial freedoms for Irish citizenry. Because of their behaviour clerics get more ridicule than reverence these days. As a result they and their allies would like to see ridicule banned and have the boundaries of secular freedom pushed back. At times British society sails precariously close to the wind on these matters. In February 2006 the Blair government came very close to having a Religious Hatred Law passed that would have seriously diminished the quality of British intellectual and cultural life.

In a feeble attempt to disguise what was at the heart of this case her solicitor claimed that Ladele at no time brought the case in ‘an attempt to undermine the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender communities.’ Yes – and god came on a donkey.

Hee haw hee haw – there’s a bit of ridicule for you.


  1. There's been controversy in California this year when we had the window for gay couples to marry; certain clerks protested on similar grounds to Ladele. So far, based on earlier cases when pharmacists were held duty-bound by their profession to dispense the morning-after pills despite their personal objections, it looks as if the workplace in the U.S. has to abide by the law when it conflicts with their beliefs. It's intriguing if also dispiriting to compare British judgments on this matter, lacking the American controversies grounded in the First Amendment's ingeniously overlapping protections of, and from, religion!

  2. Fionnchú, the Americans often handle these matters better than the Brits. The latter almost introduced an awful law back in 2006 which, only for the public opposition and some solid leadership given by comedians and writers, would have resulted in draconian practices and entertainers in jail. The morning after pill is an obvious one for the zealots to make a stand on. Good that they lost the case in the States. These people should never be allowed the authority to police others.