Christian NHS worker loses appeal over freedom to talk to a Muslim colleague about her faith
Victoria Wasteney, the NHS therapist who was disciplined for giving a book to a Muslim colleague, has today lost her appeal against the Employment Tribunal's ruling.
In a judgment handed down today, Judge Eady QC upheld the Tribunal's ruling, that the NHS had acted reasonably in disciplining Victoria.
Today's ruling raises serious questions as to whether any Christian in a position such as Victoria's will be protected, if they manifest their faith in the workplace.
Victoria is consulting lawyers at the Christian Legal Centre as she considers how to respond to the judgment.
'Believed to be genuine friendship'
Victoria, who is Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy at a London hospital, was suspended for nine months and then received a written warning following allegations of 'harassment and bullying' by a Muslim staff-member.
An internal disciplinary panel dismissed five complaints against her but upheld three saying that Victoria was wrong to have:
- Invited her colleague to various church-organised events
- Prayed with her colleague (despite having her permission to do so)
- Given her a book about a Muslim woman's encounter with Christianity
This had taken place over a period of several months in the context of what Victoria believed to be a genuine friendship.
In April last year, the Employment Tribunal ruled that her NHS employer had acted reasonably in disciplining Victoria.
Following a hearing last October, Victoria was granted permission to appeal, after Judge Eady QC said that the Employment Appeal Tribunal should consider whether the original ruling had properly applied the European Convention on Human Rights' strong protection of freedom of religion and expression.
Responding to today's decision, Victoria said:
"What the Court clearly failed to do was to say how, in today’s politically correct world, any Christian can even enter into a conversation with a fellow employee on the subject of religion and not, potentially, later end up in an Employment Tribunal.
"If someone sends you friendly text messages, how is one to know that they are offended? I had no idea that I was upsetting her. For example, I was sent the following text message by the Muslim complainant: - 'Hope your (sic) okay Victoria, your (sic) am (sic) amazing manager and a wonderful person, I hope you never feel otherwise!! Anyone that can’t see that is an idiot, see you tomorrow xx'.
"I believe the NHS singled me out for discipline because Christianity is so disrespected. Previously a Christian worship service that I set up for patients was closed down, but accommodation for Muslims to practise their faith wholly facilitated and encouraged".
'Marginalised, threatened, sidelined'
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Victoria, commented:
"Week by week Christians are marginalised, threatened, sidelined, sacked and disciplined simply for holding normal conversations about their faith which is held dear to them.
"The United Kingdom has a strong foundation rooted in Christianity which has brought us freedom and flourishing. The NHS and our Education System were started by Christians – motivated by their faith. Our legal system was founded on Christian values and yet we now see that it is one of the most liberal and anti-Christian legal systems in the Western world.
"We need a radical review of the balance of rights in this country which is skewed to favour religions and ideologies other than Christianity. This is ironic given that it is Christianity that has given our society freedom, tolerance and hospitality".