Christian NHS worker banned from talking about faith after claims she bullied a Muslim colleague were upheld

Published 30 June 2014  |  
REUTERS/Darren Staples DS/MD/WS

A Christian NHS occupational therapist has been disciplined and banned from talking about her faith at work following a nine-month suspension for 'bullying' a Muslim colleague.

Head of Occupational Therapy at the East London NHS Trust, Victoria Wasteney has since been reinstated by the Trust, but is moving onto a different project.

Despite the disciplinary's verdict, Wasteney maintains that she was always respectful to her co-worker and only ever spoke about her faith after receiving encouragement to do so.

"I fear I may have been entrapped by a colleague who encouraged me to discuss my faith, who willingly agreed that I could pray for her and who even accepted an invitation to a church charity event," she says.

The co-worker in question was a junior in Wasteney's department, and made a complaint to the Trust on grounds of religious discrimination and harassment.

Wasteney was then found guilty of giving her colleague a book detailing the story of a Muslim who converted to Christianity, placing a hand on her knee during prayer and inviting her to a church charity event. The Disciplinary Tribunal thus ordered Wasteney's suspension, which has since been lifted, though a formal warning will remain on her record for 12 months.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Wasteney has fought this verdict, contending that she was "simply responding in a loving and compassionate way to a young colleague who seemed genuinely interested in talking about my faith as a Christian".

"For nine months I was made to feel I was a danger to my colleagues and the public despite no evidence of wrong-doing. I had email evidence clearly showing the Complainant wanted to come to my charity church event and I only put my hand on her knee in friendship after asking her permission while I prayed for her," she insists.

"I would have stopped praying immediately if I had thought I was distressing her in any way but faith was openly discussed and encouraged and welcomed by the Complainant."

Throughout her ordeal Wasteney has been keen to impress the importance of respect for all faiths, and believes that the NHS encourages discrimination against Christians in particular.

"I believe in tolerance for everyone," she told The Telegraph. "It certainly wasn't an attempt to convert her to Christianity".

According to the 37-year-old, there is "undoubtedly a pattern of inequality of treatment of Christians and Muslims" within the health service.

"Muslim staff can pray five times a day, which I am not objecting to, but Christians are often denied time off on Sundays or permission to take breaks during their lunchtime for prayer or religious worship," she says.

"I never expected to be persecuted by the very Trust I have been dedicated to over the past seven years."

Wasteney is appealing the court's decision under the 2010 Equality Act, and is being represented by top Human Rights barrister Paul Diamond.

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, argues that Wasteney's case indicates a move away from the very values on which the NHS was built.

"The NHS was founded and inspired by Christian principles and precepts. Such heritage meant that the NHS was a model of how to deliver health care across the world; a place of safety, care, freedom and flourishing with a staff inspired by their chosen career," she has said in a statement.

"Sadly, this case, along with others, demonstrates that today's climate in the NHS is increasingly dominated by a suffocating liberal agenda that chooses to bend over backwards to accommodate certain beliefs but punishes the Christian."

Wasteney's appeal follows a series of cases from Christian employees who claim they have been discriminated against in the workplace as a result of their faith. A Christian woman who was fired from her job at Heathrow airport after complaining about religious harassment by Muslim colleagues took her case to the Court of Appeal just last week.

Nohad Halawi, who worked as a saleswoman at Heathrow airport for 13 years, says she raised her concerns about being subject to abuse from Muslim staff several times before her dismissal. She contends that she was taunted by colleagues for her "shi**y Jesus" and was compelled to defend a fellow Christian who chose to wear a cross.

She alleges that her Muslim colleagues then made up false accusations that she is "anti-Islam" and this resulted in her airside pass, which allowed her to trade at the duty free section in Terminal 3, being taken away.

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