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The Pemberton case and the NHS’s position

27 November 2015


From the Revd Alan Fraser

Sir, — While I understand Canon Jeremy Pemberton’s disappointment at the failure of his Employment Tribunal Claim against the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham (News, 6 November), I can’t help wondering whether he has been aiming his fire at the wrong target.

Whatever one’s views about the Equality Act 2010, the fact is that it was written with the express intention of allowing churches and other religious institutions to continue to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation in certain prescribed situations. This was done, as was openly acknowledged at the time by those moving the legislation, in order to avoid the possibility of the secular courts’ being used to amend church doctrine (and indeed that of other religions).

Amendments designed to remove these exemptions were all defeated during the legislative process. It would, therefore, have been an extraordinary frustration of the clear will of Parliament had Canon Pemberton’s action succeeded.

Secular organisations, however, including Canon Pemberton’s prospective employer, the NHS, have been granted no such exemptions. Canon Pemberton attempted to argue that his job offer would not have been withdrawn had not Bishop Inwood refused to issue an extra-parochial ministry licence. But the fact is that, in asking for such a licence before confirming any offer of employment, the NHS is creating a requirement that it knows it will be considerably more difficult for LGBT people to meet — and practically impossible for those who are, or wish to be, married.

Furthermore, there is no good reason for the NHS to place a requirement on chaplains of being “in good standing” with their Church in the first place. The work of chaplains is pastoral, and might require knowledge of specific church traditions; but surely it is more important for the person to have a compassionate nature and the ability to explain Christian truths. The notion of being “in good standing” is wholly irrelevant to someone’s ability to do the job from day to day — as the selection panel effectively admitted when it identified Canon Pemberton as the most suitable candidate for the post.

Many YMCAs across the country offer chaplaincy services, including YMCA Birmingham. While we do require chaplains to provide a reference from a Christian minister confirming their faith, I know of no one who has been refused employment in the YMCA because of an inability to provide an extra-parochial ministry licence or some other form of guarantee of “good standing”. YMCAs’ experience shows that a perfectly competent chaplaincy service can be operated without inserting a “good standing” requirement into a Person Specification.

Consequently, it is at the very least moot that it is the NHS that has unlawfully deprived Canon Pemberton of the post for which he was the most suitable candidate. And it has done so because it has placed a requirement on candidates that both is unnecessary and will cause it to have to discriminate against LGBT people in many situations.

May I suggest, therefore, that, rather than appeal against the tribunal’s decision, Canon Pemberton should look to issue proceedings against the NHS, where he surely has a much greater chance of success? If he is still in the market for chaplaincy work, perhaps he should consider approaching his local YMCA.

Chief Executive
YMCA Birmingham
Will Steel House
109 Grosvenor Road
Birmingham B6 7LZ

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