School receptionist faces sack over prayer request

Thu, 12 Feb 2009

A five-year-old girl from Devon was left in tears after her teacher reprimanded her for talking about Jesus in class – and her mummy could be facing the sack.

Watch a BBC Spotlight news report

The girl’s mother, who works part-time at the school, is being investigated by governors because she emailed friends at church asking them to pray about her daughter’s situation.

Mrs Jennie Cain is being supported by The Christian Institute’s legal defence fund.

The head teacher at the school, Mr Gary Read, learnt about the prayer request after he got hold of a private email sent by Mrs Cain from home using her personal email account.

He would not tell the 38-year-old mother of two how he got a copy of her personal email, but he told her she was being investigated for misconduct.

Mrs Cain said: “I felt embarrassed that a private prayer email was read by the school – it felt like someone had gone through my personal prayer diary.

“I feel my beliefs are so central to who I am, are such a part of my children’s life.

“I do feel our beliefs haven’t been respected and I don’t feel I have been treated fairly. I don’t know what I am supposed to have done wrong.”

On 22 January Mrs Cain went to pick up her children from the 275-strong Landscore Primary School in Crediton, Devon.

Earlier that day her daughter, Jasmine, had been overheard by a teacher discussing heaven and God with a friend. The teacher took the five-year-old to one side and told her off.

Mrs Cain said that when she picked her children up from school, “my daughter burst into tears, her face was all red and she was clearly upset.

“She said ‘my teacher told me I couldn’t talk about Jesus’ – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“She said she was taken aside in the classroom and told she couldn’t say that. I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do.”

The next day Mrs Cain was called into Mr Read’s office over another matter before he started discussing her daughter, Jasmine.

“He started talking about my daughter about how he wasn’t happy about her making statements about her faith.

“At that point I froze, I felt very small and I felt trapped as I was a junior member of staff.”

That weekend, she emailed a prayer request from her personal computer at home to ten trusted friends from her church.

“I asked them to please pray for us, please pray for Jasmine, please pray for the school and pray for the church.”

A few days later she was called back into Mr Read’s office.

“I didn’t think at this point I could be more stunned. He had in his hand a copy of my private, personal email and it was highlighted all the way through.

“He said that he was going to investigate me for professional misconduct because I had been making allegations about the school and staff to members of the public.”

Mrs Cain, who was not suspended, said he refused to tell her where he had got the email but said two independent governors would be taking statements and calling witnesses.

“He said the investigation could be followed by disciplinary action up to and including dismissal because of this private email.”

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “I thought I had heard it all when I learned a nurse had been suspended for offering to pray for a patient.

“But now a five-year-old girl and her mother have been slammed for nothing more than expressing their Christian faith.

“I am particularly concerned about the way in which Mrs Cain’s private email to her church friends ended up in the hands of the head teacher.

“This is the latest in a series of cases where Christians are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. It is really getting to a point where it has to stop.”