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Christian teacher loses appeal after being fired for homophobic remarks

Pupils say they were ‘preached at all day’

A Christian teacher who was fired after repeatedly making homophobic remarks to pupils and preaching at them constantly at a school in Bristol has had her appeal rejected by an employment tribunal. Svetlana Powell claimed that her dismissal represented religious discrimination by the school, after the Christian Legal Centre had claimed that she was simply dismissed for saying ‘God loves you’ to a lesbian pupil. But the employment tribunal has ruled that this claim was ‘not well founded and is dismissed’. Humanists UK, which has criticised the slew of ‘Christian persecution’ cases taken in recent years, has welcome the ruling.

According to testimony given by Academy manager Elizabeth Barker and pupils present in the classroom, Ms Powell told one pupils that ‘he was a bad Christian for believing in homosexuality’, and said of another, who is openly gay, that she ‘will be going to hell if she does not repent her sins’. Barker reports that after being summoned to the classroom she found a ‘shouting match’ taking place.

The pupils said ‘they have been preached at all day about Christianity’, including in English and maths lessons. Whilst Ms Powell said that it had not been her intention to ‘preach’ to her pupils, she ‘agreed that the conversations all day about religion were inappropriate.’ The employment tribunal’s ruling stated that Ms Powell ‘allowed herself to be drawn into a conversation whereby she expressed her personal religious views’ and ‘these views, in particular that on homosexuality, caused the learners… to become upset.’ ‘The reason for the claimant’s dismissal did not include her religion or belief’, the ruling concludes, but rather her failure to maintain ‘control of the class’.

Ms Powell is being represented by the Christian Legal Centre, a Christian lobby group that is notorious for taking a string of ‘Christian persecution’ cases in recent years. They are reported to be considering a further appeal.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘This case is simply the latest attempt to spin a false “Christian persecution” narrative and to explain away the airing of damaging homophobic views within a school. The ruling makes clear that pupils at the school were upset and distressed by their teacher’s comments on homosexuality, and that Ms Powell’s failure to desist was the reason for her dismissal. Any effort to frame the teacher as the victim in this situation rather than the pupils in her class is disingenuous and risks empowering other teachers who may be minded to air their bigotry in a similar way.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

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At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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