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Christian prison worker to appeal Tribunal ruling

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A Christian prison worker has been granted permission to appeal an Employment Tribunal ruling, after complaints about verses he quoted from the Bible during a prison chapel service compelled him to resign. 

Barry Trayhorn, an ordained Pentecostal minister, worked as a prison gardener and volunteered in chapel at HMP Littlehey, a prison for sex offenders. After he spoke during a prison chapel service about the wonder of God's forgiveness for those who repent, he received an aggressive response from prison authorities and eventually resigned.  

In March this year, the Employment Tribunal tribunal ruled that Mr Trayhorn was not discriminated against because of his Christian faith, and that the prison had acted properly in disciplining him. 

Following last week's hearing, a judge has granted permission for Mr Trayhorn’s case to be heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
 

Harassed because of Christian faith 

Mr Trayhorn started work at the prison for sex offenders as a gardener in May 2011, and at the invitation of the Chaplain started to lead some chapel services on a voluntary basis. 

During a service in May 2014, Mr Trayhorn spoke of God's forgiveness for those who repent, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 from memory. The verses speak of people who had been forgiven a number of sins, including adultery, homosexual practice, greed and drunkenness. 

But four days after the service, a complaint was made about what Mr Trayhorn had said, and he was immediately barred from participating in future chapel services. Over the following weeks, a series of issues were raised about his conduct as a horticulturist at the prison, prompting disciplinary procedures.

Mr Trayhorn resigned from his job as a gardener in November 2014, saying that he had been harassed because of his Christian faith and that it was impossible for him to return to work, given the way that he had been treated. Two days after his resignation, a disciplinary hearing was held in his absence, at which he was given a final written warning.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Trayhorn took his case to an Employment Tribunal last November. He was represented by Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre, Paul Diamond. 
 

'Alarming'

In March, the tribunal ruled that Mr Trayhorn spoke of God's forgiveness in an "insensitive" way which "failed to have regard for the special nature of the congregation in the prison".

Mr Trayhorn has previously described the tribunal’s judgment as "alarming on a number of fronts"

"The Tribunal's reasoning was based on the effect that my message, which included the bible verses, had on those who heard them. Yet those who attend chapel do so voluntarily to worship God and to learn what the Bible has to say," he said.
 

'Prisoners need to hear God’s word'

Commenting on being given permission to appeal the ruling, Mr Trayhorn said:

"I am pleased and thankful that the court will allow me to appeal. 

"Prisoners need to hear God's word just as much as anyone else. If people come to a Christian chapel service, we cannot hold back the gospel truth that God forgives those who repent.

"As I led the worship, I spoke about the wonder of God's love and the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ to those who recognise their sin and repent. I said that I am the worst sinner I know.  

"But that wasn't politically correct. The mere mention of homosexual behaviour in the Bible verses that I quoted provoked complaint."

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

"It is vital that we stand with Barry and challenge the way that he has been treated. If gospel truth cannot be spoken in a voluntary Christian service, where will we encounter such censorship next?

"The gospel is a message of hope and forgiveness and neither prisoners nor anyone else should be denied access to it."

 
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