Call for bishop's resignation after gay dicrimination verdict

By staff writers
July 18, 2007

Christian and civil rights groups have expressed delight at an employment tribunal decision in favour of John Reaney, the gay man who has won his discrimination claim against the Anglican Bishop of Hereford.

The case was supported and funded by Stonewall, which works to end mistreatment of LGBT people - and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is calling on Bishop Priddis to resign, accusing him of wasting money on prejudice.

Mr Reaney was interviewed by a panel of eight people for the post of Youth Officer in the Diocese of Hereford in the summer of 2006. However, a unanimous decision to appoint him was blocked by the Bishop of Hereford after a meeting in which Mr Reaney was humiliatingly cross-examined by the Bishop about his private life.

Mr Reaney is set to secure substantial compensation. In its judgement, the Tribunal said: "The Respondents discriminated against the Claimant on the grounds of sexual orientation. The case will now be listed for a remedy hearing."

John Reaney himslef said: "I'm delighted that the Bishop of Hereford has lost this case. It demonstrates to many lesbian and gay Christians working for God within the Church of England that they are entitled to fair and respectful treatment. I'm very grateful indeed to Stonewall for their support throughout this case. I’m also grateful to my solicitor Alison Downie of Bindman & Partners and barrister Sandyha Drew for all their work."

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, declared: "This outcome is a triumph for 21st century decency over 19th century prejudice. We’re very happy for John. The tribunal has rightly made clear that the Church of England cannot discriminate against gay people with impunity. No one, not even a Bishop, is exempt from the law."

Mr Reaney, who lives in north Wales, went to Stonewall Cymru’s Cardiff office for advice and, given its importance, Stonewall supported and funded his case throughout.

Stonewall argued that a heterosexual person would not have been subject to the same level of intrusive questioning as Reaney. The case was heard over four days in Cardiff in April 2007.

"The reason that Christians can practice their faith in this country alongside Muslims, and Protestants alongside Catholics, is precisely because modern Britain respects difference," said Ben Summerskill. "We hope this decision gives a clear signal to all employers about the importance of respecting lesbian and gay people in the workplace."

The Rev Richard Kirker, who heads up the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in the UK declared: “All the evidence in this case says John Reaney is an outstanding Christian Youth Officer - the mission of the Church has not been served by Bishop Anthony Priddis’ prejudicial action against him.”

He added: “We were alarmed by elements of Bishop Priddis’ evidence before the tribunal. There was a moment of extraordinary farce when he quoted a remark allegedly made by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to a journalist in an African airport as an authority for his position. He did not give the source.”

Mr Kirker said: “Bishop Priddis himself has pointed out that Hereford diocese is not wealthy – yet by his unwarranted action the diocese will be many thousands of pounds the poorer – he must consider his position. How much has this case – an attempt to persecute and deny employment on the grounds of sexual orientation – cost the Church of England? What good could possibly have come even if the Church, improbably, had won?”

He added: "LGCM stands ready to help all victims of the Church's Homophobia. Shockingly what happened to Mr Reaney is not unusual. We receive similar evidence regularly."

“The forty-odd pages of the judgment boils down to this – everything about the appointment of a Christian Youth Officer in the diocese of Hereford was going well until the bishop got involved.”

“We will be considering the lengthy judgment for the broader implications it has for the Church. In fact all faith bodies will need to act with extreme caution now more than ever if they are tempted to discriminate against lesbian and gay people despite the exceptions given to faith bodies in certain very restricted situations to discriminate. We wish Mr Reaney well whether or not he feels he wants anything further to do with an institution which has treated him so appallingly,” concluded Mr Kirker.

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