Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and other church leaders will urge senior judges to stand down from future Court of Appeal hearings because of “disturbing” and “dangerous” rulings they issued in recent religious discrimination cases.
Senior churchmen do not think they have any chance of a “fair” ruling if the latest significant hearing – due on Thursday – is heard in front of those judges who, they argue, have already shown a lack of understanding of Christian beliefs.
Critics are particularly alarmed by a ruling by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, on behalf of the Court of Appeal, that Lillian Ladele, a registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships ceremonies – because they were against her Christian beliefs – broke the law.
The Court of Appeal decided in December that the right to express a strong Christian faith must take second place to the rights of homosexuals under Labour’s equality laws.
Lord Carey and others will this week support a formal application by lawyers acting for Gary McFarlane, a Christian relationship counsellor, that a specialist panel of five judges with a proven understanding of religious issues and headed by Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, should be established to hear his case and future cases involving religious rights.
Mr McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, is appealing against an employment tribunal ruling that supported his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.
The hearing is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal, but it has not yet been decided which judges will hear the case.
Mr McFarlane’s legal team believe that Lord Neuberger and other judges should “recuse” – withdraw from participation – in future religious discrimination cases because of their alleged prejudices and their alleged “disparaging” remarks.
The Church versus judiciary showdown comes just two weeks after senior bishops expressed alarm that Christians in Britain were being persecuted and “treated with disrespect“.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, six prominent bishops and Lord Carey described the “discrimination” against churchgoers as “unacceptable in a civilised society”.
Their intervention followed a series of cases in which Christians have lost their jobs after seeking to express their faith.
In the most recent high-profile case, Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a crucifix around her neck, last week lost her religious discrimination case against her employers.
Mrs Chaplin, 54, who lives near Exeter and who had worn the cross every day for 38 years, described the decision as a “very poor day” for Christians in the workplace.
The Master of the Rolls is the second most senior judge in England and Wales, after the Lord Chief Justice.
The Master of the Rolls, a position which dates back to the 13th century, is the presiding officer of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that Lord Carey has already prepared a lengthy witness statement in support of Mr McFarlane and that other Bishops are also prepared to air their grievances.
This weekend there were moves among Church leaders to organise a demonstration outside the High Court on Thursday.
It is understood that Lord Carey will use his statement to accuse the Court of Appeal of making a series of “disturbing” judgements and being responsible for some “dangerous” reasoning which could, if taken to extremes, lead to Christians being banned from the workplace.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1991 to 2002, believes that court rulings on the wearing of religious crucifixes show a lack of understanding of Christian beliefs – he argues most wear crosses as a sign of their fidelity to Jesus.
In the long term, Lord Carey and others believe that there is a need to appoint a panel of judges – of all religious faiths – to hear sensitive religious rights cases.
It is believed that in his statement, Lord Carey will specifically highlight the case of Miss Ladele to try to prove his point, saying the ruling is tantamount to accusing Christianity of begin “discriminatory” and to accusing Christians of being “bigots”.
In his ruling, Lord Neuberger said that it was a legitimate aim of Islington council in north London, Miss Ladele’s employers, to have a policy “requiring all its employers to act in a way which does not discriminate against others”.
Lord Carey is not thought to have named Lord Neuberger in his statement but there is no doubt that the Master of the Rolls is targeted for criticism.
Mr McFarlane will be represented in court on Thursday by Paul Diamond, the leading religious rights barrister, and he is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which seeks to promote religious freedom and, particularly, to protect Christians and Christianity.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, the director of the centre, said yesterday: “Recent decisions of the courts have illuminated insensitivity to the interests and needs of the Christian community and represent disturbing judgments.
“The effect of these decisions is to undermine the religious liberties that have existed in the United Kingdom for centuries. These decisions affect the fundamental freedoms of every UK citizen and this is now a critical election issue.
It is vital that the major parties address this matter and give it the central platform it deserves.”
Some senior Muslims also believe that Christians in Britain receive a bad deal.
Dr Taj Hargey, the Imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, wrote last week: “Christianity is under siege in this country. Britain’s national religion has never been so marginalised and derided by the public institutions that should be defending it.”
A spokeswoman for the Judicial Communications Office declined to comment on specific allegations against judges.
However, she pointed out the judicial oath, sworn by all judges on their appointment: “I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”