|See also: Christian prison worker forced to resign.|
Priests could soon be censored for what they preach from the pulpit, if a Tribunal's decision in the case of a prison chaplain spreads into parishes. And prisoners could lose the opportunity to find faith whilst behind bars and change their lifestyles.
The Revd Barrry Trayhorn, who spoke of the forgiveness that God offers to those who repent, quoting Bible verses, has lost his claim for discrimination and constructive dismissal. Ordained Pentecostal minister Mr Trayhorn felt compelled to resign when officials "bombarded" him with allegations of bad behaviour, following complaints from prisoners who heard Barry quote Bible verses and explain God's love and offer of forgiveness. At the time, Mr Trayhorn was leading worship at the Christian service at HMP Littlehey.
Mr Trayhorn started work at the prison for sex offenders' as a gardener in May 2011, but at the invitation of the Chaplain started to lead some chapel services on a voluntary basis. In a May 2014 service, Mr Trayhorn spoke about the wonder of God's forgiveness for those who repent, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 from memory. The verses mention a number of sins, including adultery, homosexual practice, greed and drunkenness. He told the hearing in November "As I led the service, I spoke about the wonder of God's love and the forgiveness that comes through Jesus to those who recognise their sin and repent. I said that I am the worst sinner I know."
However, four days after the service, a complaint was made about what Mr Trayhorn had said, and he was immediately barred from participating in future chapel services. Over the following weeks, a series of issues were raised about his conduct as a horticulturist at the prison, prompting disciplinary procedures. In August 2014, Mr Trayhorn was signed off work with stress-related illness. His manager visited him at home on three occasions to discuss the work-related issues. On two occasions, she was accompanied by a senior prison official.
Mr Trayhorn resigned from his job as a gardener in November 2014, saying that he had been harassed because of his Christian faith and that it was impossible for him to return to work, given the way that he had been treated. Two days after his resignation, a disciplinary hearing was held in his absence, at which he was given a final written warning. He took his case to an employment tribunal which considered his case in November 2015, and was supported by the Christian Legal Centre. He was represented by Standing Counsel to Christian Legal Centre, Paul Diamond.
Yet, in an extraordinary judgment, an Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled on Thursday 10 March that Mr Trayhorn was not discriminated against on the grounds of his religion, "because of the way his message was received". It continued, Mr Trayhorn spoke of God's forgiveness in an "insensitive" way which "failed to have regard for the special nature of the congregation in the prison".
Mr Trayhorn said: "This case is alarming on a number of fronts. The Tribunal's reasoning was based on the effect that my message, which included the bible verses, had on those who heard them. Yet those who attend chapel do so voluntarily to worship God and to learn what the Bible has to say. The congregation know that the Bible will be preached on, and therefore complaints should have been considered in light of that.
"When the Equality Act went through Parliament, the Government said that Ministers of Religion, speaking in a Church would continue to be able to teach and preach what their faith had traditionally believed. It is clear that this is no longer the case.
"This decision has two very worrying consequences: Firstly, the Tribunal has effectively said that inmates will no longer be able to listen to sermons preached from the Bible which could change their behaviour for the better, as they become Christians and God transforms their lives.
"Secondly, this case is a warning shot to church leaders across the land that the ever growing political correctness will soon be hitting pulpits and if congregations do not like what they hear about sexuality, complaints will be made."
Responding to the judgment Christian Concern's Andrea Williams said: "This is a chilling judgment and one which should alarm MPs and Church leaders alike. What we are seeing, month by month, is a systematic marginalising of Christians in public life. It happens slowly, case by case, sector by sector but before long, no Christian, whether they be ordained like Mr Trayhorn or simply an office worker, will be able to openly state what their deep, sincere convictions are without fear of being reported to their employer and called a bigot.
"Last year the Prime Minister recorded an Easter message saying that we should be proud to be a Christian country, and how his Government had supported churches by giving money for the upkeep of cathedrals and the like. That is his rhetoric. The reality is that his Government's policies have done everything but support Christianity in this country. It is time for MPs and senior church leaders to wake up and see what is slowly developing in our nation and stand up for Biblical values."