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Christians lose another bid for privilege at work

An employment tribunal has ruled that a Christian housing advisor, who used his position at Wandsworth Council to evangelise, was not unfairly dismissed from his job.

Giving judgment in Amachree v Wandsworth Borough Council, Judge Phillips said the complaint followed an interview with a housing client, Ms X, who later wrote to the council and complained.

Ms X said she had been left “very upset” after Amachree gave her “a half-hour lecture on the fact there was no such thing as an incurable illness, doctors should never be trusted, that my problem was that I did not have God or faith in my life so therefore was ill as a result”.

Ms X added: “I have nothing against anyone having a religion but I do not expect this barrage at a housing interview. Also I am concerned that this person does not offend someone more seriously, or tell someone with cancer not to believe in doctors etc. which is downright dangerous. This is not appropriate conduct and I think you should know what goes on.”

Judge Phillips said he was not persuaded that Amachree was treated differently from (i.e. more harshly than) anyone else in a similar situation. He said an appropriate comparator (i.e. the equivalent situation against which Amachree’s claimed disadvantage should be compared) would be someone who, in the course of contact with service users, inappropriately promoted any religious belief or strong personal view.

“We did not believe the respondent treated the claimant, as a Christian, more severely for talking about healing that they would have treated a non-Christian having an equivalent discussion about non-religious healing,” he said.

Judge Phillips said there was a practice that council officers should only discuss relevant matters at an interview, but no evidence of any narrower policy based purely around religion. Judge Phillips rejected further claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal.

Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Christian Legal Centre said “We are stunned that the tribunal failed to recognise the draconian way in which Mr Amachree was treated and we are dismayed that they found that Mr Amachree had not been discriminated against on the grounds of his faith. This decision will send yet more shock waves through the Christian community when they realise that a couple of comments encouraging faith in God can lead to a person being dismissed for gross misconduct.” The CLC is said to be considering an appeal.

Mr Amachree said: “I am devastated by the outcome. This is a sad day for Christians who simply want to live out their faith in the workplace without fear. But my heartfelt thanks go to the Christian Legal Centre and those who have stood by me from the beginning and I know they will continue to support me.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “When are these Christians going to get the message that if they work for a public body that serves the whole community they cannot use that position to promote their own particular faith? Mr Amachree had privileged contact with the public to give them specific advice about housing. That’s all. The fact that he decided to extend that to include aggressive evangelisation is simply not acceptable. As he discovered, not everyone shares his faith and not everyone wants to. His insensitivity deeply upset someone who had come to the council for information about housing, not to be told that she was ill because she didn’t believe what Mr Amachree believes. Perhaps the fundamentalist groups that are encouraging these cases will now please stop wasting public money in attempts to gain special privileges at work for Christians.”

A spokesman for Wandsworth Council said: "We're delighted that the tribunal has found in our favour, supported the common sense and wholly reasonable way we handled this case and rejected the totally spurious and misleading claims that were made against us."

The Christian press reacted in the usual disingenuous manner by leaving out the important details and claiming in the headline to their story that Mr Amachree has been fired for “mentioning God in the workplace”