A teacher has been fired after telling a lesbian student that God loved her. It’s the latest salvo in the culture wars in which Christians find themselves marginalized and discriminated as radical bigots.
The incident happened in Great Britain, after a teacher at a local school was questioned about her Christian beliefs in regard to homosexuality. She gave a non-judgmental response, and as part of the conversation with the class, told a student who said she was lesbian that God loved her.
Days later, the school fired her for “gross misconduct” and she was even reported to local authorities as a possible “radicalization threat,” a designation usually given to potential terrorists.
A government-funded pre-apprenticeship academy in Bristol reported a Christian teacher as a “radicalisation threat” for answering students’ questions about her beliefs, Bristol Employment Tribunal has heard.
Svetlana Powell, a teacher of some 17 years’ experience, told the Tribunal that she was dismissed by the T2 Apprenticeship Academy in Bristol in July 2016 after being asked by students about her views on homosexuality.
In reply to a personal question, Mrs Powell said that her personal belief was that homosexuality was against God’s will, but that He loved every person, regardless of what they did, or who they were.
When told that one of the students identified as a lesbian, Mrs Powell in conviction of God’s care and love for every person, turned to her and said: “God loves you”. Two days later, the Academy’s HR Officer, Stacy Preston, told Mrs Powell that she was fired for “gross misconduct” with immediate effect.
The Academy’s Chief Safeguarding Officer, Sian Prigg, told the Tribunal that after a group of students complained that they were “brainwashed and preached to”, she decided to contact the local coordinator for Prevent – the government’s ‘counter-terrorism’ strategy group – to report the incident. Mrs Powell said she did not know of being reported as a “radicalisation threat” until she brought a legal claim against the Academy and read Mrs Prigg’s witness statement for the Tribunal.
Mrs Powell has told the Tribunal she had been a teacher for 17 years at a Bristol College with an exemplary record, before joining T2 Academy in May 2016 as a tutor. T2 is a pre-apprenticeship academy run by a private firm, Marr Corporation, on rolling contracts from the government.
According to the report, Powell was questioned about her Christian faith by a student who knew her from a previous school. The student asked her how her Christian faith applies to homosexuality.
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She replied by saying that as a Christian, she “personally” believed the Bible says that homosexual activity was against God’s will, but that God still loves every person regardless of what they did, or who they were.
The same student then said that another student in the group was a lesbian, to which the tutor replied that God loved her. The tutor was then asked whether the lesbian student would “go to hell”, to which the tutor replied with the historic Christian view that for everyone who repents (turns to God), God has provided a way of salvation to us through His son, Jesus Christ. The tutor said nothing about ‘hell’.
The discussion became very heated. At break, that student, and four others left the classroom and then went to talk to the Academy manager, Liz Barker.
As a result of this, Svetlana Powell was then called into another room by Ms Barker, told that the students had made a complaint, and that she would take it further and would be contacting Human Resources. When Mrs Powell returned to work the next day, she was told she had been suspended, and should await news from her employer, via email.
Mrs Powell was invited to a disciplinary hearing the next day at 11am, and did not have time to obtain legal representation. At the Hearing on 27 July, she was grilled about her Christian faith and what she had expressed about it in her discussion with students.
After one hour, Mrs Powell was called back into the room and told her contract was being terminated on the basis that she could not control the class, and that her comments were offensive to some students. She was told to leave the Academy immediately, and that she would not be allowed to appeal her dismissal.
Mrs Powell, supported by Christian Legal Centre (CLC), is suing Marr Corporation in Bristol Employment Tribunal for loss of earnings.
CLC lawyer, Pavel Stroilov, told the court that Marr Corporation discriminated against Mrs Powell because of her Christian beliefs. He argued that the school’s treatment of Mrs Powell is “in stark contrast” to dealing with students’ complaints against another teacher, Andrew Spargo, whom he described as an “outspoken left-wing atheist”.
When questioning one of Marr Corporation’s witnesses, Liz Barker, Mr Stroilov referred to an e-mail where she reported students’ complaints that Mr Spargo spent most of his time in class “preaching to them on the daily basis about how terrible England is and how many innocent people the government has killed, as well as why Jesus never existed”. On one occasion, Mr Spargo allegedly shocked the students by showing them a sketch of a naked woman with her legs open and vagina showing. On another, he allegedly twice told a student to “get the f*** out of my classroom”.
“The school dealt with that situation pastorally,” Mr Stroilov said in his submission to the tribunal. “Mr Spargo was only told off, and had his probation period extended for three months. He continues to teach at the Academy, and for all we know, carries on with anti-Christian and anti-British indoctrination of students. By contrast, Mrs Powell was dismissed on the spot for much milder comments. In my submission, we have proven today that this was because her views are Christian.”
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