The Christian Legal Centre has won a year-long battle with the National Health Service to have appropriate Sunday worship services offered at a medium security mental health unit.
The John Howard Centre in East London is a facility for people with a mental health problem who have been arrested, who are on remand or who have been to court and found guilty of a crime.
The Centre allowed Friday prayers for Muslims but did not have Sunday services for Christians. Patient Freddie O’Neil, aged 57, says he asked for a Sunday service week after week, but he claims he was laughed at by the staff.
O’Neil is a convicted rapist but was converted in prison. He said, ‘I grew up in care and was abused by the system as a child and came into the adult world not knowing what God, family and love are.
‘I am a damaged person, a convicted criminal, but the only true redemption I have found in my life is hope in Jesus Christ’.
His case was taken up by the Christian Legal Centre. A pre-action letter was then sent to the East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) in October 2018.
The letter stated that, as a Christian, Freddie needed to attend Sunday Christian services each week as well as receiving Holy Communion.
In response, the Centre provided the services of former Catholic priest-turned-spiritualist, Mr Raphael Zernoff, to provide communion.
However, O’Neil was unhappy about the way in which Mr Zernoff described himself as a ‘writer, spiritual guide, channeler, psychic, life-guide and a lot of other identities’. Freddie argued that Mr Zernoff was not a representative of orthodox Christianity.
It took a further threat of legal action for the Centre to finally offer weekly Sunday Christian services, which began on Sunday 7 July 2019. There are now reportedly between six to eight people attending these services.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the CLC, said, ‘We are encouraged the John Howard Centre has finally agreed to hold Sunday Christian services for its patients.
‘All the Christian patients at the Centre wanted was to have a service and Holy Communion on a Sunday, which recognised the hope they have in Jesus Christ, and to exercise their faith in him.
‘This was not being taken seriously and what the Centre was providing was wholly inappropriate and disturbing to already vulnerable patients’.