Press Release

Christian prison worker loses appeal over quoting Bible in chapel service

2 August 2017         Issued by: Christian Legal Centre

A Christian prison worker who felt he had no option but to resign after being disciplined for quoting from the Bible during a prison chapel service, has lost his appeal against an Employment Tribunal’s ruling that the prison was right to discipline him.

Rev. Barry Trayhorn, an ordained Pentecostal minister, worked as a prison gardener and volunteered in chapel at HMP Littlehey, a prison for sex offenders.

In May 2014, Rev Trayhorn spoke in a prison chapel service, quoting the Bible and talking about God’s forgiveness for those who repent.

He quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9  which says: “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

A complaint was later made about the inclusion of homosexuals in the list, and he should not have not mentioned them in his quoting of the Bible. Rev Trayhorn was disciplined and eventually felt forced to resign.

In a judgment handed down yesterday (02 August), Mrs Justice Slade upheld the Employment Tribunal’s ruling, that the quoting of a the Bible in a chapel service could “legitimise… mistreatment” of homosexual prisoners; and Rev Trayhorn was appropriately disciplined for quoting the sin.

Mr Trayhorn plans to take his case to the Court of Appeal, supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

State control of doctrine

This ruling amounts to state control of what is and is not acceptable doctrine for a chapel service. The court ruled that quoting the Bible out loud in a service could be insensitive to sex offenders.

In effect, the state is determining what counts as sin. The passage quoted is a classic vice list of several immoral behaviours. Sexual immorality is included, alongside greed, drunkenness, theft, slander, and idolatry. Neither Mr Trayhorn, nor the passage quoted, focused on sexual sin.

The ruling means that certain parts of the Bible may be regarded as off-limits for quoting and preaching from in a chapel service. In effect, the state is determining that some parts of the Bible are acceptable to quote and some are not. If you quote the wrong part, you could face consequences.

This ruling has implications for Christian chaplaincies in all kinds of institutions – schools, prisons, hospitals, universities, and other workplaces.

This is in spite of the fact that attendance at chapel is entirely voluntary. No one was obliged to attend. Further, Pentecostal prisoners are not permitted to have a religious service in their faith tradition.

Those ministers who do not conform to state doctrine regarding what does or does not count as sin can be openly disciplined and forced out of their jobs as a result of this ruling. The use of the Bible is officially not a defence for a Christian minister to defend his Christian views.

‘We cannot hold back the gospel truth’

Commenting on the judgment, Barry Trayhorn said:

“Prisoners need to hear God’s word just as much as anyone else. If people come to a Christian chapel service, we cannot hold back the gospel truth that God forgives those who repent.

“In no way did my speaking from 1 Corinthians 6 intend to bully or mistreat anyone. I shared the gospel with them because I am motivated by the love of Christ to tell them that they can find forgiveness. I told the prisoners I am the worst sinner I know. 

“I am worried that this ruling will restrict other people like me from sharing Christ in prisons – and even eventually in churches.

“Christianity is under attack in this nation. I cannot help but wonder if other faiths would be given the same treatment.”

‘Dangerous precedent’

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“This ruling sets a dangerous precedent not only for prison chaplains but for any minister who preaches the gospel. To say that quoting a verse from the Bible can be offensive, could have serious implications on the freedom of prison ministers to share the good news of the gospel.

“It should not be for the state to decide which parts of the Bible can and cannot be quoted during preaching, nor to dictate that verses that some may find unpalatable should be interpreted to fit with current social norms.

“It was clear that Barry’s talk centred on God’s forgiveness and love for those who repent of their sin. This is a message that those imprisoned for sexual offences desperately need to hear. Our prisons are in need of the light of the gospel, yet this ruling sets a trajectory towards the Bible being forbidden in these institutions.”


Notes for editors

Background to the case:

Mr Trayhorn started work at the prison as a gardener in May 2011, and in 2012 started to assist at some chapel services on a voluntary basis.

During a service in May 2014, Mr Trayhorn spoke of God’s forgiveness for those who repent, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 from memory. The verses list a number of sins including adultery, greed, drunkenness and homosexual practice.

But four days later, a complaint was made about Mr Trayhorn’s teaching. 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 gardener at the prison, prompting disciplinary procedures.

Mr Trayhorn resigned from his job in November 2014, saying 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.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Trayhorn took his case to an Employment Tribunal in November 2015, claiming that he had been punished by the prison because of his Christian faith.

In March 2016, the Employment Tribunal ruled that 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 described the Employment Tribunal’s judgment as “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,” he said.

One of Mr Trayhorn’s witnesses gave evidence to the Tribunal that hearing Mr Trayhorn speak at the chapel services helped him to find faith. However, this was disregarded.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the Employment Tribunal was right to determine that Mr Trayhorn was not discriminated against when he was disciplined for quoting a passage of the Bible in a chapel service.

Mr Trayhorn plans to take his case to the Court of Appeal, supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

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