A Christian teaching assistant has won a £7,000 legal settlement from a school in Leeds after he was sacked for street preaching in his spare time.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Andy Nix, 65, took legal action against Temple Moor High School in Leeds after he was sacked without notice for taking part in street preaching in Leeds City Centre.
Mr Nix claimed that the headmaster of the school and the teaching agency Prospero Teaching had discriminated against him for expressing his Christian beliefs.
A handful of ‘hearsay’ complaints from students to the headmaster, Matthew West, claiming they felt ‘unsafe’ because Mr Nix was a street preacher was enough to see him sacked on the spot.
Without prior notice, Mr Nix was hauled to the headteacher’s office and interrogated at length by the headteacher and another member of staff. During the interrogation, Mr Nix said he was made to feel like a criminal. He was summarily dismissed and told to immediately leave the school premises.
Following his dismissal, he lodged a claim against the school in the Employment Tribunal. Instead of facing trial, the school decided to settle the case and pay Mr Nix £7,000 in compensation.
On 6 July 2021, Mr Nix, who has been a Christian for 42 years and qualified as a teacher in 2006, was preaching in the Briggate area of Leeds City Centre.
Another evangelist, Dave McConnell, was also preaching and had responded to a series of questions from members of the public about what the Bible says about LGBT relationships, but Mr Nix did not.
During the preaching, members of the public had assaulted, verbally abused and stolen property from the preachers, but the police took no action.
Mr Nix said assaults from members of the public and two-tier policing has become the norm for street preachers.
Mr McConnell was subsequently arrested, prosecuted and forced to do community service for calling a biological male who self-identified as a woman, a man. He was later vindicated in court with all charges dismissed by the Crown Court.
During Mr Nix’s preaching, he told the story of his life before becoming a Christian. He did not use any threatening or abusive words and he remained calm despite hostility from members of the public.
Mr Nix’s only comment concerning same sex attracted people that day was “if you think all homosexuals are happy with their lives then you are living in cloud cuckoo land.”
However, the police, while questioning Mr McConnell about his preaching on what the Bible says about gender and sexual ethics, suddenly and without warning, arrested Mr Nix for a public order offence and bundled him into a police van.
Taken to the police station, Mr Nix was held in a police cell from 4pm until 11am the following morning before being released.
In August 2021, Mr Nix was informed by the police that all charges against him had been dropped.
In January 2022, news appeared in local Leeds media that Mr Nix intended to take legal action against the police for wrongful arrest.
On the 29 March 2022, Mr Nix entered the staff room at Temple Moor High School where he had been working as a teaching assistant through an agency.
He was summoned by the HR manager to headteacher, Mr Matthew West’s office, who asked Mr Nix if he had been part of a ‘rally’ in Leeds City Centre. Mr West suggested that the teaching assistant had been arrested for ‘homophobic remarks’, which was not true.
Throughout the interrogation, Mr Nix felt that he was being pressurised to renounce his Christian beliefs or face losing his job.
Mr Nix told the headteacher that he was a Christian evangelist in his spare time and that on this occasion he had been wrongfully arrested and all charges had been dropped.
Nonetheless, Mr West said that Mr Nix’s Christian beliefs did not ‘align’ with the school ethos and values, particularly around inclusivity. He said that there were students in the school who would be offended if they became aware of Mr Nix’s Christian beliefs.
Parents and students had reportedly said that they did not understand how a Christian with such beliefs could be allowed to work in a school.
Despite Mr Nix emphasising that he had broken no law, Mr West told him he had to leave the premises immediately.
Mr Nix later appealed the decision but received no response from the school.
Taking legal action, Mr Nix made claims for harassment, discrimination and said the school had breached his right to freedom, thought and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
His lawyers said that the school and the agency had directly discriminated against him because of his protected Christian beliefs and that reasons for the sacking were based on ‘hearsay’ evidence.
It was alleged that Mr Nix had said same sex attracted people would ‘burn in hell’, which he vehemently denied. While Mr Nix does preach that Christian sexual morality and marriage between a man and a woman is a good thing, he never said that being same sex attracted was ‘wrong’ and/or ‘immoral’ and would result in ‘burning in hell’, which was maliciously alleged.
In the legal claim, lawyers presented a comparator asking whether the school and agency would have treated a teaching assistant who promoted LGBT relationships and was arrested for it in their spare time in the same way.
Lawyers added that Mr Nix has never preached a message that could reasonably be said to cause students to ‘feel unsafe’.
Lawyers representing the school said that Mr West was not an eye-witness to the street preaching and was ‘investigating the situation from a student safety and welfare perspective.’
‘Renounce beliefs or face sack’
Despite the case being settled, Mr Nix believes the sacking has prevented him from being able to get a permanent teaching job.
He said: “I was shocked and amazed that the headteacher could do what he did. He made me feel like a criminal; his aim was to bully and humiliate me into renouncing my Christian activity. I believe if I had renounced it, I could have kept my job.
“The school trampled over my freedom of expression and belief. I am pleased that they agreed to settle the case which I believe was a recognition of wrongdoing.
“It is, however, a worrying sign if Christians are not allowed to debate, preach and express their faith in public without fear of losing their livelihoods.
“The impact on my life was considerable. I feared for the future, my family finances and it impacted the potential for me to get a permanent full-time role.
“I unashamedly love Jesus and my Christian faith is very important to me. I want others to know and understand this Good News and hope for their lives. I should not be treated like a criminal for doing this.
“How the police have treated street preachers in Leeds in recent years has been appalling. The two-tiered policing against Christian and conservative beliefs I believe has encouraged young people to believe street preachers are fair game who they can attack and discriminate against at will.
“The experience has, however, helped me grow in resilience and reminded of the cost involved in following Jesus Christ.”
‘Classroom no longer safe’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “This is a clear example of employer overreach. The classroom and security of jobs cannot be weaponised against teaching staff who are Christians and publicly express their beliefs.
“The idea that a Christian can be sacked because a pupil says they feel ‘unsafe’ over Christian preaching outside school is ludicrous and deeply concerning.
“We can’t live in a world where the students call the shots and headteachers are forced to comply or be labelled bigoted.
“What we have seen in Leeds City Centre over recent years is another example of two-tier policing. The preachers exercising their freedom and legal rights are assaulted and arrested, while members of the public who act aggressively are allowed to act with impunity in shutting down free speech by any means.
“More must be done to protect street preachers in Leeds and no Christian employees must be discriminated against for expressing their Christian faith in public in their own time.”