Christian claims religious discrimination over refusal to counsel gays

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A group created “to stand up publicly against a tide of unChristian legal and political changes in the United Kingdom” is backing an employment tribunal case.

Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON) and its sister organisation the Christian Legal Centre are supporting the claims of Gary McFarlane.

He claims he has been discriminated against because he is a Christian is to take relationships counselling organisation Relate to an employment tribunal.

Mr McFarlane says the publicly-funded national counselling service failed to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations.

He worked for Relate in Avon and is also a solicitor and a part-time tutor on relationships at Trinity Theological College in Bristol.

He said that he has “overcome” his prejudices against same-sex couples since he began working as a Relate counsellor in 2003, but now that he is training to be a psychosexual therapist, he feels he cannot deal with gay and lesbian people.

He claims it would be incompatible with his Christian beliefs to ‘promote’ homosexual sex.

After complaints by staff at Relate about his views, he was suspended and later told he would face a disciplinary hearing. Eventually he was dismissed.

“I love the community of Bristol,” said Mr McFarlane.

“I live in a great city, with a history. There is no room for oppression of any people and a return to the past.

“The issues are way bigger than one individual. Society will be the poorer if we do not balance rights fairly and respectfully.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of CCFON, said:

“Mr McFarlane had an unblemished record of service for Relate and was trying to work out a way in which his Christian views could be accommodated.

“It is astonishing to think that in 21st century Britain we are unable to ensure that people like Mr McFarlane are able to stay within the system. Unless, we are able to achieve this in law then there will never be true equality and respect for all.”

CCFON said that Mr McFarlane is claiming discrimination on the grounds of religion, unfair dismissal and harassment. The Christian Legal Centre has instructed human rights barrister Paul Diamond to represent him in the case.

His tribunal follows the case of Lillian Ladele, who won her employment tribunal against Islington Council.

A registrar, she had refused to carry out civil partnerships because she claimed they conflicted with her Christian views.

A tribunal found she had been discriminated against because of her fatih. Islington is appeaing the ruling.

Relate dealt with gay couples before Mr McFarlane joined in 2003.

The charity, founded in 1938. It received £1.2m in funding from the government this year.

Trained practitioners see 150,000 clients each year.

The service is available in 600 locations to married, co-habiting, same-sex relationships, separated, divorced or single people.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, said:

“It does seem extraordinary that someone who is involved in providing a mediation service should say he cannot do it becase he has unmovable views.

“Given that Relate, since the time he joined it, has always worked with gay couples, he does not even have the Lillian Ladele defence that it crept up on him.

“Relate receive public money and it is perfectly right that they should provide a service equally to the members of the general public who pay their wages.”

A spokesperson for Relate said:

“The tribunal is underway and therefore we cannot comment on any specific detail.

“As the leading provider of relationship support and sex therapy, we believe that we have acted appropriately to uphold our equal opportunities policy and ensure equality of access to our services whilst balancing the rights of individuals.

“We will make a full statement once the verdict has been given.”

The tribunal is expected to last two days.