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'No free speech' for NHS worker disciplined for giving Christian book to Muslim colleague

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Issued on behalf of Christian Legal Centre

Press Release

For Immediate Release

20 January 2015

'No free speech' for NHS worker disciplined for giving Christian book to Muslim colleague

A senior NHS occupational therapist will today (20 JAN) take her employer to an Employment Tribunal, after she was disciplined for giving a Christian book to a Muslim colleague.

Victoria Wasteney, Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy at a hospital in one of the country’s most racially diverse areas, was accused of 'harassing and bullying' her colleague for giving her a book about a Muslim woman's encounter with Christianity.

Senior managers also told Miss Wasteney that she was wrong to invite the woman to events organised by her church and to pray with her, even though the colleague had given consent. 

The complaints led to Miss Wasteney being suspended on full pay for nine months.

Five of the eight charges made against her were dismissed by an internal disciplinary panel in February 2014 but three upheld.

Miss Wasteney had a 'final written warning' placed on her record for twelve months, although this was reduced on appeal to a 'first written warning'. She also had to accept a range of rulings designed to stop her discussing her faith and beliefs with colleagues.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Miss Wasteney is challenging her employers because she believes political correctness in the NHS is stifling ordinary conversations about faith.

'Open door policy'

The young Muslim woman was appointed as a newly qualified occupational therapist in a group of 30 managed by Miss Wasteney at East London NHS Foundation Trust and took advantage of Miss Wasteney's policy of having an 'open door' to all members of her team, often coming to chat and seek advice.

“One of the earliest conversations I can recall was one in which she said she had just moved to London. She felt that God had a real plan and a purpose for her,” said Miss Wasteney, from Essex. Miss Wasteney told her colleague that she went to church, but was “very cautious because our environment is such that these things can be misconstrued and, with her being from a different faith background, I was mindful of being respectful of that”.

Miss Wasteney said the woman was interested in the community work being done by her church to combat human-trafficking.

Over a period of time, Miss Wasteney said she invited her colleague to several church-organised events and thought no more about it. Later, when the woman was due to be off work for hospital treatment, Miss Wasteney gave her a book to read during her recuperation.

“A friend had recommended it to me, a book called I Dared to Call Him Father. I hadn’t read it. I still haven’t. But it is a story about a Muslim woman and her encounter with Christianity. Because we had had these conversations it did not seem abnormal."

On another occasion the woman came to Miss Wasteney’s office in tears, upset about her health and problems at home.

“I said to her that she had strong faith and she should draw on that faith,” explained Miss Wasteney. “I said 'Pray!' She told me she could not pray, so I replied 'Maybe I can pray for you?’ And she said 'OK’.

“I asked if I could put my hand on her knee, and she said yes. I don’t know if I said 'Lord’ or 'God’ but I said what I thought was the most neutral. Then I said 'I trust that You will bring peace and You will bring healing’.”

The disciplinary panel found her guilty of three charges of misconduct related to the accusations of 'bullying and harassment' – praying with her colleague, giving her the book and inviting her to church events. 

'Forced to hide things that matter most'

Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "Victoria's case highlights the risks of the current 'equality and diversity' framework. Rather than bringing people together and creating more cohesive workplaces where people can be honest about who they are and build meaningful relationships, 'political correctness' means that many workplaces are becoming fragmented, superficial and suspicious. People are being forced to hide their identity and the things that matter most to them."

“The NHS is increasingly dominated by a suffocating liberal agenda that chooses to bend over backwards to accommodate certain beliefs but punishes the Christian.”

Miss Wasteney’s hearing begins today (20 JAN) at the East London Employment Tribunal. 




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