A British teacher has had her discrimination lawsuit thrown out by the court after claiming she was unfairly fired for expressing her Christian viewpoint.
Experienced educator Svetlana Powell was thrown out of the T2 Apprenticeship Academy in Bristol in July 2016 after being asked by students about her views on homosexuality. She was also allegedly reported as a “radicalization threat” to the government’s anti-terrorist watchdog, Prevent.
When a 17-year-old student found out she was a Christian, they began to relentlessly question Powell regarding her personal views on the issue of homosexuality. Mrs Powell responded by asserting 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.
An additional incident occured when students indicated one of their classmates was a lesbian. At this point, Powell turned to the particular girl and said: “God loves you”. Just two days later, the Academy’s HR Officer, Stacy Preston, told Mrs Powell that her employment was terminated on account of “gross misconduct” with immediate effect.
In the subsequent employment tribunal, Judge Maxwell has ruled that the Academy did not discriminate against Mrs. Powell because of her religious beliefs. Powell insists that her discussing of issues around the Christian faith arose from a natural discussion that had begun in her class.
“I decided to use the students’ interest in the subject and to have a discussion to accommodate the activities included in the lesson plan,” Mrs Powell said. “I considered the topic appropriate, as the discussion about Christian views would contribute in raising cultural issues of our day and awareness of the religion of this country.”
When one student pushed the teacher to say whether or not she thought the lesbian student would go to hell, the teacher simply replied that every person can attain salvation through Jesus Christ – not once did she mention “hell.”
After a complaint was made to the schooling authorities, Mrs Powell was brought in for a disciplinary meeting the very next day – she did not have time to instruct any legal representation. The teacher was grilled about her Christian faith and what she had expressed about it in her discussion with students.
After an 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. Not only was the teacher told to leave the Academy immediately, but she was also notified that she would not be allowed to appeal her dismissal.
Mrs Powell sued the Marr Corporation with the help of the Christian Legal Centre. According to Christian Concern:
“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 tribunal gave its ruling on February 2. Judge Maxwell ruled that Mrs Powell was fired “because she allowed herself to be drawn into a discussion where she expressed personal religious views… allowed it to escalate and get out of control.”
“She was not dismissed, to any material extent, for her Christian religion or beliefs,” the Judge said.
“We are seeing a worrying trend of cases such as this,” commented Barrister Andrea Wiliams, director of Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre.
“The fact that Svetlana was reported to Prevent for holding Christian views is a sign of our times. It shows how Prevent will be used to punish innocent and soft targets.”
“A radical rethink is required.”