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CHRISTIAN PREACHER WINS RIGHT TO TAKE CASE TO EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE

A Christian preacher has won the right to have his case referred to the European Court of Justice following an accusation that a state-supported radio station aimed at the Asian community discriminated against him because of his Christian beliefs and views.

Church of Scotland minister, Mahboob Masih, was a volunteer presenter on Awaz FM. His services were terminated after six years behind the microphone following a debate on air about the uniqueness of Christianity. This led to a phone-in discussion that angered the Muslim management of AWAZ, a community radio station. After being told he could no longer present the show as a result of the debate, the 37-year-old complained to an employment tribunal that he had lost his position for reasons related to religion or belief and was thus the victim of discrimination based on his faith as a Christian. The station denied discrimination, arguing that the tribunal has no powers to hear the case as Mr. Masih was not an employee.

In a ground-breaking decision, the case will be referred for a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice to decide if volunteers are protected by antidiscrimination legislation. If upheld, the consequences for employers in their dealings with volunteers who are open about their faith could be very significant.

AWAZ Radio is a Community Radio Station serving the Asian community in Glasgow. It is non-commercial and heavily supported by the state. In the radio show, Mr. Masih had spoken about the Christian view on the uniqueness of Christ and this was the first time that many Muslims in Glasgow would have heard about the Christian faith. Masih simply responded to questions raised by listeners and in response to a Muslim caller he clarified the religious difference between Christianity and Islam. It was a religious debate under free speech principles and no intemperate language was used.

Mr. Masih was required by the management to make a statement of apology for the handling of the broadcast, which he duly did, though he added a point expressing his belief in the importance of freedom of speech. After apologizing live on air, he was asked by the management to go to the mosque to make a further statement of apology. This, he felt, was inappropriate and on grounds of conscience did not accede to the request. He then wrote a letter to the radio station, stating that he believed he had done nothing wrong and that the request to apologize at the mosque was intimidatory. Masih has been supported throughout his case by the Christian Legal Centre who in turn instructed leading Human Rights barrister, Paul Diamond.

Employment Judge Raymond Williamson ruled on 26th August 2009 that the case should be referred to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on whether Masih’s status as a volunteer was protected by anti-discrimination legislation. The judge said, ‘I ask myself the question, ‘‘Can it be right that the respondent, a creature of statute, partly funded out of public funds and set up with the aim of promoting social cohesion, should be able to discriminate on religious grounds against the volunteer staff it is obliged to engage as a condition of its licence?’"

Masih said, ‘This case shows the scandalous use of public monies to support unlawful acts under the guise of social cohesion. I do not believe any other religious group could have acted like AWAZ Radio. I am grateful to the British courts. The Pakistani Christian Community intends to protest to the Scottish Parliament to highlight discriminatory treatment of Christians.’

Source: CCFON 2nd September 2009

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