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A Christian mayoral candidate for a London borough has launched legal action after being sacked by her employer for expressing Christian beliefs on marriage as part of an election manifesto.
Maureen Martin, 56, from Lewisham, London, is now being supported by the Christian Legal Centre. She was dismissed by her housing association employer, L&Q, for gross misconduct following three complaints. The case is believed to be the first of its kind to see a political candidate sacked by their employer for their Christian beliefs.
Miss Martin had worked for L&Q as a housing manager for 13 years with an unblemished record and had good relationships with LGBT colleagues and service users in her non-customer facing role.
Standing for the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA) since 2015, Miss Martin had previously had nomination papers signed by a previous line manager without issue, and in January 2022 had declared her role with the CPA on her employer’s register of interests.
On 18 April 2022, Miss Martin, as part of her election campaign to become Mayor of Lewisham, had posted her manifesto to residents throughout the borough.
In the manifesto, Miss Martin, who is an ordained Christian minister and President of the CPA, had outlined her political position on fly tipping, knife crime and tax, and on marriage she had written:
“Marriage: I pledge to cut through political correctness and simply state the truth that natural marriage between a man and a woman is the fundamental building block for a successful society, and the safest environment for raising children.”
The words were taken almost exactly from the CPA’s election manifesto.
Following the publication of the manifesto, an image of the leaflet was posted on Twitter suggesting the manifesto “broke the law” and was “hate speech.”
Miss Martin’s Twitter account was searched, and it was discovered that Miss Martin was employed by L&Q, which was not stated in her manifesto.
On 20 April 2022, Miss Martin was summoned to a meeting with HR where she was told three complaints had been made against her for ‘hate speech’. One complaint said: “Does she still work for L&Q? Many of the residents here are horrified looking at her twitter account. She should not have any influence upon the lives of residents as she has some hateful views.” Another complaint described Miss Martin as a ‘bigoted moron’ and said: “Holding anti-Lgbtq views is clearly a barrier to her being able to carry out her job to a satisfactory professional standard. Cooperative House is home to many LGBTQ people, and it should be a minimum requirement for all L&Q staff to view them as equals.” The third complaint called for Miss Martin to “actively participate in anti-oppressive training and for disciplinary action to be taken to address her statements.”
As well as complaining about her manifesto, one complainant also flagged concern about Miss Martin’s criticism of male athletes identifying as transgender taking part in women’s sport.
In an investigation meeting the following day, Miss Martin was told that her tweets and her manifesto were “homophobic, had breached L&Q’s social media policy and had potentially brought the company into disrepute.”
Interrogated about the contents of her manifesto leaflet and her Christian beliefs on same sex marriage, Miss Martin said to L&Q’s HR bosses: ‘This is freedom of speech. What’s the point in being allowed freedom of speech if you can’t have it?’
In response, the investigating office simply said: ‘You’ve raised your views on same-sex marriage and children’s upbringing.’
Asked about her beliefs on same-sex marriage, Miss Martin said she had nothing to hide and said: “I’m a Christian. It’s just my preference that a marriage be between a man and a woman. My view doesn’t affect my job in any way and hasn’t done since 2007. I’ve had no complaints from people of other sexual orientations or colleagues. I’ve never displayed or raised homophobic opinions in any form in my job.”
Miss Martin said that she had not posted her manifesto on Twitter but was told by the investigating officer that: “someone has posted your leaflet on Twitter and tagged you in it.”
Miss Martin was told that putting her photo on the leaflet easily linked her views to her employer, despite L&Q not being mentioned in the manifesto or on her Twitter account.
The investigating officer then said: “I don’t dispute that you’re entitled to your views. I completely agree that your views are your views. However, to air them so publicly when you’re clearly linked to L&Q, can you see how that could bring L&Q into disrepute? You have your photo on your leaflet which is clearly linked to L&Q.”
In response, Miss Martin said: “I’ve been doing this for a long time with my own personal views. The complainants put it on Twitter. It was their plan to cause this.”
HR bosses then asked her if she could understand why people were upset and she said: “Of course. But that’s what freedom of speech is. People can disagree. That’s what it is all about. I might not like what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it. I know people will be upset. But I can’t contain my views in case it causes upset. We either have freedom of speech or we don’t. I’m not always happy with what others say. I appreciate my views can cause upset; but it is not a hate speech. I’m expressing my opinion based on fact. They disagree and they have a right to do so.”
Quizzed about a tweet which asked a question as to why women were not competing in men’s sport, Miss Martin said: “I was asking, if men who claim to be women can compete in women sports, if we’re all the same, should women also be competing in men’s sports?”
Miss Martin was then asked if she would still stand for the mayorship in Lewisham and she said she would. She was then accused of failing to declare political activity and a conflict of interest with L&Q’s policies stating that staff “must not engage in any political or campaigning activity that might compromise the position of L&Q.”
Miss Martin had most recently declared her role with the CPA in January 2022, and in 2019 had her nomination papers for the mayoral candidacy in Lewisham signed by her then manager, who passed no comment on her being a candidate. Miss Martin insists that she was unaware at all times of any obligation on her part to discuss her candidacy with management.
Immediately following the meeting, however, she was suspended until 4 May which hindered her from campaigning in the local elections.
The letter said she had been suspended for “discrimination via homophobic tweets posted on Twitter” and bringing the company into disrepute.
An investigation and full disciplinary hearing followed, and Miss Martin was dismissed for gross misconduct. In the dismissal letter from L&Q’s Director of Strategy and Planning, it said Miss Martin’s tweets and beliefs could be: “perceived to be discriminatory, hurtful and offensive views towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, non-traditional families, and abortion.”
Furthermore, the letter stated: “I fully recognise your right to your own religious beliefs. However, as stated already, this disciplinary is not about your religious belief. It is about the manifestation of your views in relation to sexual orientation and same sex marriages on social media. Further, whilst I agree that your sharing of your views were not aimed at any member of staff, resident or person specifically to constitute direct discrimination, I do consider that you chose to express your views in an inappropriate manner, and in doing so your views can reasonably be perceived as discriminatory. On this basis it is therefore reasonable to conclude that they will have caused upset, hurt and offence. In addition, in doing so, I conclude that you compromised the position of L&Q as an organisation that upholds inclusivity as one of its foundational values, and as such, the way in which you shared your views has brought L&Q’s reputation into disrepute.”
L&Q houses over 250,000 people in the south-east and widely advertises its objectives to maintain a high-ranking in Stonewall’s Equality index. The housing association also recently been nominated for an award from LGBT campaigning outlet, Pink News.
Miss Martin will now take legal action against L&Q on the grounds of discrimination, harassment, indirect discrimination, and unfair dismissal.
Lawyers will say that her dismissal was in breach of her right to political speech under Articles 9 and 10 of the ECHR and that her dismissal was “outside the band of reasonable responses” in all the circumstances of the case.
Furthermore, they will argue L&Q maintained an entrenched position during disciplinary procedures and that the protected characteristic of sexual orientation took priority over that of religion or belief. The case has been described as an “attack on democracy” and the first of its kind in seeing a political candidate sacked for their Christian beliefs.
‘I am determined to fight for justice’
Miss Martin and her family have lived in Lewisham for 62 years after her parents emigrated from Jamaica.
She has described the devastating impact her sudden sacking has had on her including the loss of income while living with and caring for an elderly parent.
She said: “I was devastated, but also sadly not surprised that L&Q would treat me in this way. I have been an exemplary employee, and I believe my Christian beliefs have been an asset to L&Q. I have always gone above and beyond to help the people L&Q serve.
“It is telling that Lewisham council dismissed the same complaints against me because my political speech is protected.
“I have a right to express my own Christian beliefs in my own private time and should not be required to self-censor valid beliefs on marriage, abortion and US politics.
“I would not treat people in any way other than professionally. It was a general statement I made and I am quite within my right to make it. We either have freedom of speech in the UK, or we do not. We must have the freedom to disagree with each other without it resulting in people having their lives torn apart.
“I had stood as a political candidate while working for L&Q for six years without any issues. It is disturbing how Christian beliefs on marriage, which have been held and expressed for thousands of years, are being silenced and treated with such hostility and disdain. The message this is sending is if you want to engage politically and make a difference in your community, but if your views don’t line up with the liberal agenda, you can potentially be fired from your job.
“If my manifesto had been in support of same-sex marriage, would I have had the same response?
“I am determined to fight for justice and to ensure that no other Christian political candidates and employees go through what I have.”
Attack on democracy
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: ““For speaking about a positive vision of life and marriage as a building block for the good of our society she was silenced and de-platformed in the political space for boldly speaking about her faith in Jesus.
“We have never seen a case like this which sends a crushing message to anyone who believes in Christian marriage and wishes to express those beliefs at work or in public office.
“LGBT ideology fuelled by Stonewall activists has captured institutions to such an extent that free speech and Christian freedoms have been intimidated into silenced.
“Maureen is a courageous woman who has been treated appallingly for having the guts to declare her belief that marriage between a man and a woman is best for children and our society.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with her as she seeks justice.”
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