Bristol Employment Tribunal has heard the case of Christian teacher
Bristol Employment Tribunal has heard the case of Christian teacher Svetlana Powell, who was dismissed from the T2 Apprenticeship Academy after she answered questions from students.
Mrs Powell, who has taught for 17 years, was branded a ‘radicalisation threat’ and dismissed in July 2016, after a student asked for Mrs Powell’s personal view on homosexuality. Two days later, the government-funded Academy’s HR Officer, Stacy Preston, told Mrs Powell that she was fired for ‘gross misconduct’ with immediate effect.
The full details reveal that the student who asked the question professes to be a Christian and knew the teacher was a Christian. The student had been disruptive throughout the lesson and, when Mrs Powell tried to discipline him, the young person immediately asked Mrs Powell a question about evolution. This prompted a barrage of questions about her faith — seemingly this is what the disruptive student had intended by way of getting back at Mrs Powell.
The student, who had originally been warned about his behaviour, then deliberately asked the tutor for her personal views on homosexuality. She replied by saying, as a Christian she believed the Bible says homosexual activity was against God’s will, but God loves every person regardless of what they did, or who they were.
The same student said another student in the group was a lesbian, to which the tutor replied that God loved her. Mrs Powell was then asked whether the lesbian student would go to hell. The tutor replied with the Christian view that, for everyone who repents, God has provided a way of salvation to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. She said nothing about ‘hell’.
According to Sian Prigg, chief safeguarding officer at the school, a group of students complained they had been ‘brainwashed’ and ‘preached to’. Ms Prigg contacted the government’s counter-terrorism strategy group, Prevent, to report the incident.
Mrs Powell did not know she was reported as a ‘radicalisation threat’ until she brought a legal claim against the Academy and read Mrs Prigg’s witness statement for the Tribunal.
The day after the incident, she was called into a disciplinary meeting before she could get any legal representative, and dismissed the day after.
Speaking for Mrs Powell, Pavel Stroilov, lawyer for the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mrs Powell, said the employer, Marr Corporation, had discriminated against Mrs Powell because of her Christian beliefs.
He argued the school’s treatment of Mrs Powell was ‘in stark contrast’ to dealing with students’ complaints against another teacher, Andrew Spargo. On several occasions, Mr Spargo condemned the British government as killing more people than terrorists, and once showed students a sketch of a naked woman with her legs open. On another, he allegedly twice swore at a student to leave his classroom.
However, ‘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. By contrast, Mrs Powell was dismissed on the spot for much milder comments’.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said, ‘The fact Mrs Powell 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’.
The case continues.