The Court of Appeal in London has today legally recognised the right of Christians to observe Sunday as a day of rest.
The court was ruling on the case of Celestina Mba, a 38-year-old care
worker from Merton, south west London, was forced to leave her job when
she refused to work on Sunday for religious reasons.
employment tribunal had previously argued that because not all
Christians observe Sunday as a day of rest, it could not be considered a
"core component" of the Christian faith, despite it being the fourth of
the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus chapter 20.
However, the Court of Appeal today rejected this notion, arguing that
Sunday observance is an important part of the worship and practices of
many millions of Christians, and cannot therefore be simply dismissed.
Employers have a responsibility to be conscientious and to work to
find a balance between their business needs and an employee's religious
obligations, the court judged.
Had this judgement gone differently, Christians who objected to
working on Sundays in the future could have found themselves without a
Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of the Christian
Legal Centre, said: "At last the courts are beginning to demonstrate
greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
"Christian identity extends beyond private belief into daily life. We pray that the tide is turning.
"Many Christians will now be able to argue that their employer must respect their rights of Sabbath worship"
Ms Mba resigned from her job at a children's home run by Merton Council in 2009 after being pressured to work on Sundays.
The initial employment tribunal found that as a 'committed Christian'
she had made it clear that she was unable to work Sunday shifts because
of her beliefs.
Although the Council initially respected this decision, two years
later they approached her requesting that the arrangement be altered.
From 2009 onwards, despite knowing she would refuse, Ms Mba's employers
ordered her to work on Sundays.
Describing the situation, Ms Mba said: "They were trying to break my
faith and see if I really believed in the Lord's Day. Merton
disrespected my Christian faith. I said to the Court that the Council
would not treat other faiths like they treat Christians. It was like
giving pork to a Muslim every meal-time and then disciplining them for
not eating it.
"If they really needed someone to work on a Sunday, they should have
recruited that person and I would have been glad to leave. I had offered
to take unpopular shifts and work anti-socials in order to protect
The Court of Appeal decided it was wrong of the employment tribunals
to have judged against Ms Mba on the basis of whether other Christians
were observing Sundays as a day of rest.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay said: "I am satisfied that there was an
error of law in the decision of the [employment tribunal] and that it
was repeated in the judgment of the [employment appeals tribunal]."
Although future rights of Christians to refuse to work on Sunday have
now been protected, the Court of Appeal's judgement was not
retroactive, and therefore did not force Merton Council to provide Ms
Mba with her job back.
The Appeals court was unwilling to reconsider the findings of the
initial employment tribunal, or to order a new hearing to apply the
correct tests to the case.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay said "after the most anxious consideration",
he had come to the conclusion that the decision of the employment
tribunal to uphold her dismissal was "proportionate" based on the law as
it stood that time.
Ms Mba's supporters have found this aspect frustrating, with Ms
Williams saying: "We believe if the Court of Appeal had been prepared to
consider the facts according to the correct test, Celestina would have
won. The onus should be on the employer to reasonably accommodate their
She added: "[Ms Mba] loved her job and she has paid a high price for her Christian faith."