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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Christian nurse is no martyr

When Christian evangelists knock on the door with the offer of an introduction to Jesus, most of us respond with a polite “Not today thank you” and close the door. We may feel slightly guilty when we do this and worry they might think we’re rude. Most Britons don’t feel comfortable slamming the door in people’s faces, especially when they seem so nice and smiley (and, as is usual these days, they have children with them).

But we know that if we give them even the smallest encouragement, we’ll have to endure their attempts to shove their religion down out throats.

Of course, others feel very strongly that these people have no right to knock on their door at inconvenient times, trying to sell them what they see as dangerous nonsense. They might get angry and argue vigorously.

Few of us would want to welcome them into the house for a quick prayer because we know that it wouldn’t end there. If they see a chink in our defences, they won’t let up until they’ve got us into their church.

What do you do, then, if one of these evangelists comes into your house on another pretext – say, perhaps, as a community nurse, who had come to dress a particularly persistent wound on your leg?

You’re grateful for her ministrations, but then, suddenly, out of the blue, she offers to pray for you or offers you a little card she’s made with prayers on it. She’s a nice girl, and has been kind in your hour of need. But you aren’t a Christian, and you don’t want people praying in front of you or talking about their religion.

Now you don’t have a convenient door to close on her. You’re tucked in the chair with a bad leg, so you have to excruciatingly say to her: “No thank you” and see the reaction, as her winning smile fades and she seems hurt by your refusal.

Should she have put you in that situation? Should she have come into your home on a professional, nursing basis and then used that access to try to interest you in her religion? Of course not.

And that is why North Somerset Primary Care Trust was right to suspend Caroline Petrie who put a patient in just such a position. She blatantly broke the code of conduct which she had signed up to; it states quite clearly: you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health.

She has also allegedly claimed to have cured a urinary tract infection solely through the power of prayer even though the code also states that: you must deliver care based on the best available evidence and no mention was made of treatment given at the same time.

The NSS doesn’t want nurse Petrie sacked. Her skills and commitment are not in question. But we do want her to understand that she cannot use her privileged access to the homes of private individuals as a pulpit, and the disciplinary hearing should elicit from her a promise that she will not repeat this.

In the right-wing press she is being promoted as the latest Christian martyr. The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph (both of which seem to have fallen victim to religious mania recently) have become hysterical. Melanie Phillips in the Mail thinks it is a sure sign that Britain has committed suicide. Richard Littlejohn wheels out his well-worn insults to fling at the woman charged with disciplining this nurse. Ms Petrie is portrayed as an angel, while her supervisor becomes, in the predictable world of Littlejohn, a “hatchet-faced harridan”.

It is, of course, the latest in a long line of such cases which Christian evangelists have unearthed in order to create the impression that they are under sustained attack from “secularists” or the “politically correct brigade”.

The case of the other Christian martyr, Nadia Eweida, is cited as another example of just how difficult it is to be a Christian these days in this country. What these tales of injustice and martyrdom fail to mention is that Ms Eweida was a religious nuisance who made the lives of her colleagues and employer (British Airways) a misery. Read the real story, rather than the sanitised and sentimental Daily Mail version.

Ms Petrie is not a martyr, she is a missionary who has – on more than one occasion – let her religious enthusiasm get the better of her.

Let us not overlook the fact that her case has been jumped on by the Christian Law Centre, which has been behind just about all the recent Christian martyr cases The attempts by these religious activists to use her case to gain some more ground for their reactionary agenda must be resisted.

Terry Sanderson

3 February 2009


Published Tue, 03 Feb 2009