2nd December 2016
Christian teaching assistant challenges disciplinary action
A Christian teaching assistant who was disciplined for expressing her beliefs about sexual ethics and the meaning of the rainbow, will today ask an Employment Tribunal to overturn the action taken against her.
Last year, Vicky Allen, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was asked by a pupil with special educational needs whether she thought that same sex relationships were "OK". Minutes later, the 14-year-old asked whether Vicky thought that the meaning of the rainbow symbol had changed. Vicky answered both questions in line with her Christian beliefs, but was later investigated by school authorities and given a 12-month written warning. "He asked me what I believed, so I told him my biblical beliefs. He asked me out of the blue," Vicky explains. Commenting on the effect of the action taken against her, she says: "I felt like a criminal - it was unbelievable. It's taken away any trust I had."
Vicky says that she is challenging the school's behaviour so that other Christians will not be penalised simply for answering questions based on their biblical beliefs.
Andrea Williams commented: "This is another example of a Christian being penalised for expressing Christian beliefs in the context of their work. It's important for the future of gospel freedoms, that we challenge such censorship. "Imagine if those who voted 'remain' in the recent referendum were told that they could no longer express their viewpoint because the referendum favoured 'Brexit!"
Vicky, who has extensive experience of working with special educational needs students, says that she is used to receiving direct, and sometimes personal, questions from the students. These have included, for example, questions about her Christian faith and how she spends her weekends. She says that answering such questions is an important part of building good relationships with the students, which in turn helps them to learn.
The student, with whom Vicky had worked for four years, asked about same-sex relationships during an English class. He had asked her about the issue in the past, and Vicky explained that she believes what the Bible teaches about relationships between men and women, and doesn't think that same-sex relationships are right.
A few minutes later, in another direct question, the pupil asked whether the meaning of the rainbow symbol had changed, given what they had been discussing. Vicky replied, explaining her own belief that the rainbow speaks of God's promise that he will not flood the earth again but that some people have given it a different meaning, reflecting their own message.
The student also asked whether she believed what the pope believes. Vicky, who attends a Pentecostal church, said that she did not. The pupil then apologised for asking the questions and the lesson continued. Vicky detected no sign that the boy was upset or distressed by the answers that she gave.
That evening, however, his mother reported the conversation to the school. She did not make a formal complaint but asked that the matter be investigated. In an interview with Vicky and the student, the boy said that he did not feel "offended" by Vicky's answers, but agreed with a teacher's suggestion that he may have felt "uneasy".
Following the investigation, the head teacher started disciplinary action against Vicky, which resulted in a 12-month written warning for "acting in opposition to the school's expectations with regard to equal opportunities" and for comments that "were not in line with both the policies and ethos of a member of staff". Vicky appealed the warning but in December last year, the school's governors upheld the decision.
Vicky, who has spent her career in education, says that she felt ostracised and let down by staff, and that her morale and motivation has suffered. Although the warning has now expired, Vicky is challenging the school's decision so as to help protect Christians in similar situations.
During the hearing, Vicky is expected to highlight assurances given by the Education Secretary during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act through Parliament.
In response to questioning during a Public Bill Committee hearing in February 2013, the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said: "But any teacher, if asked direct or invited to share his view by a parent or a student, is perfectly at liberty to say, with equal marriage—as with adultery, divorce or abortion—what their own moral view might be."
Reporting by Christian Concern. Please consider visiting their website at www.christianconcern.com and add them to your favourites