Stories of Christians suffering for their faith need to be taken seriously before they become too common to make the headlines, a national journalist has warned.
Cases of modern-day Christian ‘martyrs’ such as nurse Caroline Petrie are popular because readers can identify with them, but other groups often try to knock them down, writes Martin Beckford, Social and Religious Affairs Correspondent at The Daily Telegraph.
However, he adds, in an article for the Church of England Newspaper, “I believe at the heart of these stories is freedom of speech and religion”.
He goes on to suggest that it is “no coincidence that most of these cases are occurring in the public sector, where it is easier for political leaders to spread their ideas of what is not culturally acceptable”.
Mr Beckford cites the example of NHS guidelines threatening disciplinary action against any worker accused of “preaching” to a patient or colleague.
He warns that “the usual suspects” are urging them to go further and “calling for a complete end to the place of religion in public life”.
He adds: “They want to sack all the NHS chaplains, for instance. Patients would be left to suffer alone without their comforting words or presence, and hospitals could use the money saved to employ more anti-discrimination enforcers.”
The National Secular Society (NSS) recently estimated that the NHS spends £40 million on chaplaincy services each year – about £4 for every £10,000 it spends.
NSS President Terry Sanderson said patients should be visited by their own vicar, priest, rabbi or imam to relieve the taxpayer of this cost, although the Department of Health said chaplaincy services were “highly valued by patients, relatives and staff”.
But Mr Beckford warns that the “new orthodoxy” could also be dangerous for groups like this, as “there will be little to stop future governments or local authorities interpreting ‘equality and diversity’ in different ways to silence other groups – atheists, perhaps, or climate change sceptics”.
Mr Beckford writes that he would rather put up with inconvenient encounters with religious people than live in a society where “their voices are silenced in the name of ‘equality'”.
He concludes: “We should take these ‘Christian martyrs’ seriously now, because the real danger will come when their treatment becomes too common to be considered newsworthy.”
Kwabena Peat, head of year at a North London secondary school, was suspended after he complained that a staff training day was used to promote gay rights and marginalise those who disagreed with homosexual practice.
Charity worker David Booker was suspended last month after being told that he had broken his employers’ diversity code by chatting to a colleague about the Bible’s teaching on same-sex relationships.
Jennie Cain, a school receptionist in Devon, remains under disciplinary investigation for sending a private email asking friends for prayer after her five-year-old daughter Jasmine was told off by a teacher for talking about Jesus.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull
Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Christian owners of a guesthouse in Cornwall, are being sued by a gay couple because of their double rooms policy. The Bulls have a long-standing policy of only offering double rooms to married couples.
Caroline Petrie, a Christian nurse in Somerset, was suspended by her NHS employers under ‘equality and diversity’ rules after she offered to pray for a patient. Mrs Petrie has now been reinstated.
Christian foster carer
An experienced Christian foster carer was struck off after she allowed a Muslim child in her care to convert to Christianity.
Christian father-of-two Duke Amachree was suspended by Wandsworth Council after he suggested to a terminally ill woman that she could turn to God for comfort. He was told that even saying ‘God bless’ was unacceptable.
Christian registrar Lillian Ladele was bullied and faced the sack after she asked to be exempted from registering same-sex civil partnerships. She is currently waiting to hear whether she will be allowed to appeal after an original Employment Tribunal ruling in her favour was overturned last year.