RC Fireman wins ‘landmark’ case

Tue, 20 Jan 2009

A Roman Catholic fireman from Glasgow has won his legal battle against his bosses after he was punished for refusing to take part in a ‘gay pride’ march.

John Mitchell was one of nine firemen who were ordered against their will to take part in the event, Pride Scotia, in 2006.

Instead of bowing to pressure to take part in the rally, they handed out fire safety leaflets to members of the public on a nearby street.

The men, all from Glasgow’s Cowcaddens fire station, were then punished by their employers Strathclyde Fire and Rescue.

The nine firemen remained on written warnings and were ordered to undergo diversity training.

Strathclyde Firemaster, Brian Sweeney, declared the men had damaged their careers by their actions.

He said at the time: “This is a strong disciplinary action that is very serious, that is placed on their personal record file and puts them in a very difficult employment position.”

Mr Mitchell chose to fight and after failing to overturn the disciplinary findings at three internal appeals he took the matter to an Employment Tribunal.

Days before the hearing was due, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue admitted they had failed to take account of his religious beliefs.

Mr Mitchell has been awarded damages and has received an apology from his employers. He told newspapers that a gagging order prevents him from discussing the case.

But a source close to the family told reporters: “This was never about being gay or anti-gay, this was about people being respected for who they are and what they believe. The men were asked to go along and support the rally, not just hand out leaflets.

“In line with Catholic teaching, John is opposed to homosexual acts without condemning homosexuals themselves. But he has never sought to foist his views on anyone else and felt that others should have shown him that same respect.

“There were marchers dresses as nuns and priests, behaving in a lewd manner to ridicule Christianity. People are free to mock the Catholic faith in unpleasant and rude ways – that’s their right – but it was not John’s duty to join in.

“There were times he thought he would lose his job by taking on the top brass and his family received anonymous phone calls threatening violence against them.”

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “I am pleased for John that he has won his case. He is a fireman, so we know he is courageous. It takes courage to seek justice against a tide of political correctness.

“Firemen do an incredibly brave job. When they are pulling people out of burning buildings they don’t stop to ask whether the person they are rescuing is gay or straight. All they see is a person who needs their help. That’s how it should be.

“To suggest that he was not doing his job just because he wouldn’t attend a gay pride march is an insult to his courage and the courage of his profession.

“Like many people in society, Mr Mitchell has sincerely held religious beliefs about moral conduct. He has beliefs, not hatred.

“It tyrannical to punish someone because they will not take part in a public rally on an issue with which they disagree. Shame on Strathclyde Fire and Rescue for doing so.”

Tory MSP Bill Aitken said: “Strathclyde Fire and Rescue and others have to recognise that people’s religious beliefs must be considered.”

A spokesman for the brigade said: “The issue between both parties has been resolved.”

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