Pastor wins religious discrimination case over gay comments

Rev George Hargreaves

The pastor who penned Sinitta's hit song "So Macho" has won a religious discrimination case at employment tribunal. 

Rev George Hargreaves claimed he was shunned at work after an exchange with a colleague about homosexuality. 

When his colleague, Elizabeth Akano, commented that "people are born gay", Rev Hargreaves told her that "paedophiles make the same argument", the Daily Mail reports. 

Rev Hargreaves, founder of the Christian Party, claimed that his colleague contributed to a "humiliating" environment at work by deliberately ignoring him. 

During his appeal, Rev Hargreaves argued that his comments to his colleague had been reasonable.

"It is reasonable for me to say, in response to Liz and anyone who says that 'people are born gay', that paedophiles would also say that they were born that way," he said. 

"This is my standard response to the argument about people being born as homosexual. It is not illegal to put the two words in the same sentence."

Judge Andrew James, hearing the case at London Central Tribunal Centre, agreed that Rev Hargreaves had been harassed and discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. 

"This case raises extremely difficult questions about the balancing of legal rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, religious belief and sexual orientation," he said. 

"Balancing those rights is not easy and navigating between them can result in employers walking something of a legal tightrope." 

The judge added, however, that it was understandable that some people would find Rev Hargreaves' comments offensive.

"The claimant is correct to say that it is not illegal to use those words together, in the sense that it is not a criminal offence," the judge continued. 

"Many people however, whatever their sexual orientation, who do not share the claimant's deeply held and genuine religious beliefs, would find the use of those words in that context to be offensive." 

He added that Rev Hargreaves comments "in a work context" could themselves "amount to harassment related to sexual orientation", and suggested that the wording had been unnecessary.

"The claimant's religious beliefs do not require him to express himself in a way which draws an apparent comparison between paedophiles and the gay community," Judge James said. 

"Such comparisons have been drawn in the past, to the detriment of the gay community.

"It was not so long ago that employees could justify dismissing gay employees on the basis of the prevailing view at the time that gay men were a potential threat to children.

'''Paedophiles also say they are born that way''. That is not a religious belief. It is an argument used by the claimant in relation to his religious beliefs which could well cause offence to others."