The outcome of recent court cases are cause for concern among professing Christians in the UK. In the medical field, a nurse made a claim for discrimination after losing her job for refusing to remove a necklace with a crucifix pendant. The hospital contrived a Health and Safety issue. On appeal, the court found in favour of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust. She was demoted to a desk job.
Strangely, the Trust Risk Register 2009 noted of the same trust, Failure of Junior Doctors recruitment process with positions remaining unfilled. Patient safety compromised. Breach of EWTD (European Working time Directive) legislation. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he accused the Pharisees who ‘strain out a gnat and swallow a whole camel’ Matt. 23:24
Another nurse was suspended without pay for offering to pray for an elderly patient. This was in the absence of any patient complaint. Apparently, the offer of prayer was deemed to ‘promote causes that are not related to health’. She was finally reinstated after the case gained national attention and a petition campaign was launched by the Daily Telegraph. In spite of this, homoeopaths, osteopaths, reflexologists, acupuncturists, T'ai chi instructors, art therapists, chiropractors, herbalists and aromatherapists can all operate freely under the aegis of the Primary Care Trust. I’m not sure who has the discretion to decide that T’ai chi is more therapeutic than prayer.
There are also two cases that I’m aware of in which registrars were given the ultimatum of either demotion to an entry level post or dismissal for refusing to register homosexual civil partnerships.
In Glasgow, a visiting American street evangelist was preaching. He was challenged on his views regarding homosexuality and Islam. He was later arrested on charges relating to breach of the peace, sectarianism and homophobia. Considering the prospect of spending up to eight weeks in custody awaiting trial, the preacher chose to plea bargain for family reasons in order to avoid further detention.
Slowly, but surely, the curtailment of Christian expression is on the rise and all in the name of tolerance. You can wear a t-shirt boldly inscribed with a foul, contemptuous misogynist slogan. You can mount an atheist poster campaign on buses and suggest that offended Christians should be more ‘secure’ in their faith. You can shout crude, sickening racist epithets at an open-air comedy event. But when Christians decry sexually deviant behaviour in public, they can be arrested on charges of ‘racially or religiously aggravated disorderly behaviour with Intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress’. The result is a criminal record and up to 2 years imprisonment. Don’t forget that your job and family commitments may lapse as you await trial. Yes, of course, we should preach the love of God and Christ and Him crucified, but make no mistake that the early Christian leaders publicly denounced sexual immorality and idolatry.
The whole framework of this area is an extension of harassment and anti-discrimination legislation under which personal liberty takes second place. In each case, the definition relies upon the ‘reasonable person’ rule, i.e. ‘would a reasonable person in possession of the same information think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other?’ The prosecution only has to show a reasonable cause for alarm in the ‘victim’. And yes, it’s the magistrate or jury who’ll decide what’s reasonable. It’s not a defence to say that any personal offence was unintended. The presumed ‘victim’ can even buy an online injunction against your public ministry for £100.
Perhaps redefining hell as a slow, cosy fireside chat with God will keep the prosecutors at bay, but for how long?