Saturday, February 07, 2009

Caroline Petrie: A misunderstanding?

Caroline Petrie is a 45-year-old mother of two children. She is a nurse, employed by North Somerset Primary Care Trust to visit patients in their homes. She is also a committed Christian.

In December she visited a 79-year-old woman patient and spent 20 or 25 minutes attending to her needs. Before she left, she asked the woman if she would like her to pray for her. The woman declined, so Mrs Petrie said "OK," and left.

She was later suspended without pay, accused of "failing to show a commitment to equality and diversity," and required to attend a disciplinary hearing. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong," said Mrs Petrie. "I only offered to pray for her because I was concerned about her welfare and wanted her to get better."

Mrs Petrie was reprimanded in October after she gave a small home-made prayer card to an elderly male patient. He happily accepted it, but someone who was present raised concerns. She has not given out prayer cards since. Her superior told her then "You must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity" and "you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health."

Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, said it was extraordinary that equality and diversity policies which purported to ensure tolerance were ushering in censorship and intolerance.

This week Mrs Petrie was waiting to be told the decision of the disciplinary hearing.

After a national outcry, the NHS asked her to return to work. Mrs Petrie said she wasn't sure if she would. "I should not have to choose between being a Christian or being a nurse," she said.

Last month the Department of Health published a document titled Religion or belief: A practical guide for the NHS, which says: " Members of some religions. . . are expected to preach and to try to convert other people. . . To avoid misunderstandings and complaints on this issue, it should be made clear to everyone from the first day of training and/or employment, and regularly restated, that such behaviour, notwithstanding religious beliefs, could be construed as harassment under the disciplinary and grievance procedures."

The document does not make clear the limits of acceptable discussion about religion - which means that action could be taken against anyone who talks about their beliefs to patients or fellow workers.

Said Dr Peter Saunders, secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship: "We're seeing a culture of thought police emerging where it seems no longer acceptable to express what are really just orthodox Christian beliefs or the exercise of Christian conscience."

In countries once unashamedly Christian, there is now a serious move to shut Christians' mouths.