Christian teacher who told gay student she must ‘repent’ or burn in hell loses appeal
A Christian teacher who was sacked for making shocking ‘homophobic’ remarks to pupils has lost a legal challenge.Svetlana Powell had been employed by the T2 Apprenticeship Academy in Bristol, where she had been employed as a tutor for students with challenging behaviour. But she was let go after the shocking incidents in July 2016.It is alleged that while covering a lesson Powell had become engaged in an argument about homosexuality.A witness account alleges that she told one pupil he “was a bad Christian for believing in homosexuality” and told a lesbian pupil that she “will be going to hell if she does not repent her sins”.It is alleged that Powell “compared homosexuality to murder” and when challenged insisted “her opinions are always right because she is the teacher”.Elizabeth Barker, the former Academy Manager, began action against Powell after raising fears in a meeting that the student was left thinking “she was going to burn in hell if she was gay”.Powell was later fired for “gross misconduct” by Stacy Preston with immediate effect.She launched an Employment Tribunal challenge with support from fundamentalist religious group Christian Legal Centre, which claimed she was a victim of religious discrimination and claimed in releases that she was “sacked for saying God loves you”.But the employment tribunal ruled against her in the case.
Employment Judge Maxwell wrote: “We find the claimant was dismissed because [her employer] believed the claimant had allowed herself to be drawn into a conversation whereby she expressed her personal religious views [and that] these views, in particular that on homosexuality, caused the learners to become upset.
“The claimant allowed the situation to escalate and lost control of the class. The claimant’s conduct provoked complaints not only from learners but also parents.
“Accordingly, we are able [to conclude] that Ms Preston’s reasons for deciding to dismiss did not include the claimant’s religious belief.”
The judge concluded: “The reason for the claimant’s dismissal did not include her religion or belief and she was not treated less favourably on that ground. Accordingly, her claim is not well founded and is dismissed.”
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman said: “This case is simply the latest attempt to spin a false ‘Christian persecution’ narrative and to explain away the airing of damaging homophobic views within a school.
“The ruling makes clear that pupils at the school were upset and distressed by their teacher’s comments on homosexuality, and that Ms Powell’s failure to desist was the reason for her dismissal.
“Any effort to frame the teacher as the victim in this situation rather than the pupils in her class is disingenuous and risks empowering other teachers who may be minded to air their bigotry in a similar way.”
Mrs Powell and the Christian Legal Centre are considering further appeal.