THE Christian Legal Centre (CLC) has criticised an employment tribunal judge for suggesting that people should not raise their religious beliefs in a workplace unless they were first asked about them. Judge Martin Kurrein made his comments at a hearing last Thursday, brought by a nursing sister, Sarah Kuteh, who was dismissed by the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust in August 2016 after offering to pray with patients at the Darent Valley Hospital, where she had worked for nine years (News, 16 December 2016).
The CLC’s chief executive, Andrea Williams, made the unusual step of criticising the judge even before judgment in the case had been handed down. In a statement, she said that the judge “demonstrated a profound lack of understanding about the Christian faith and what it means to be a Christian.
“This religious illiteracy is pushing Christians out of public life and robbing society of the service of many good people like Sarah Kuteh,” she said. “To say that someone must be asked before they express anything about their own beliefs is deeply illiberal and wholly unworkable.”
The judge’s comments were made as the general manager of adult medicine and cancer services at the NHS Trust, Sarah Collins, was giving evidence. Under cross-examination by Sister Kuteh’s representative, Pavel Stroilov, Ms Collins was asked: “Are you suggesting that in the context of Sarah’s duties, any expression of her own religious beliefs is inappropriate?”
She replied: “If it makes a patient feel uncomfortable, then yes, it is inappropriate.”
Mr Stroilov said: “But you can’t know in advance whether someone would be offended by a comment.”
Judge Kurrein interjected, and said: “Yes, exactly. That is why you shouldn’t make the comment. Everyone has their Article 9 rights [to manifest their religious beliefs under the European Convention on Human Rights] and they can believe what they wish. But in the workplace they are circumscribed.
“Many people are not religious and there are many people that object. It is a subject fraught with difficulty and as a consequence people should not express anything about their own beliefs without it first being raised as a question by anyone else.”
The NHS Trust denies that Sister Kuteh was sacked for being a Christian. In a statement to the tribunal, the Trust’s appeal panel chairman, Victoria Leivers-Carruth, said that she was disciplined “because she had engaged in conversations about religion that were unwanted by patients and contrary to her line manager’s instructions.”
Judgment in the case is expected to be handed down in the next three weeks.