UCL Faculty of Laws


Dr Ronan McCrea’s work cited in a ruling of the European Court of Justice

20 November 2017

Ronan McCrea

The European Court of Justice has extensively cited the work of Dr Ronan McCrea, Senior Lecturer in Law at UCL Faculty of Laws, in a key ruling that sets out the limits of the right of religious organisations to discriminate in order to maintain their ethos for the first time.

Advocate General Tanchev draws on Dr McCrea’s work in his ruling this week on the case of a woman of no religion who claims to have been denied a job with a charitable organisation run by the Evangelical Church in Germany.

The Court has to balance the applicant’s right to be free of discrimination against the right of the Church to autonomy and must rule on whether the limited exemptions from the duty not to discriminate on grounds of religion that are written into law.

The Advocate General’s Opinion, which is a preliminary ruling given in cases raising important issues of law, rejects the argument that the recognition of the status and role of religious organisations in Article 17 of the Treaty means that EU law must adopt a hands off approach.

The Advocate General quotes Dr McCrea’s argument in his book Religion and the Public Order of the European Union that “the EU’s constitutional imperatives reflect […] ‘value pluralism’. [under which], conflicts between differing rights, or approaches thereto, are considered to be normal and are resolved through balancing conflicting elements rather than according priority to one over another in a hierarchical fashion.”

This underpins his conclusion that national courts applying EU legislation in this area must engage in a careful balancing of the rights of employees to be free of discrimination and the right of religious bodies to self-determination, weighing factors such as the link between the job in question and the proclamatory mission of the Church.

Dr McCrea commented:

‘This is an important case which represents the first time these exemptions for religious employers have been interpreted by the Court of Justice. The Advocate General’s Opinion stresses the need to balance the various rights involved.

This reinforces the tendency of European law to strive to balance conflicting rights rather than to grant almost absolute priority to the autonomy rights of religious organisations as we have seen in the United States.’

Read the full press release by the Court of Justice of the European Union