The salient facts of this case are these:
- HMP Littlehey is a category C men’s prison and Young Offender institute in Cambridgeshire. Chapel is entirely voluntary. Nobody is required or forced to attend, sing hymns or listen to scripture.
- Rev Trayhorn is an ordained Pentecostal minister who worked as a gardener at the prison. He has helped out with prison chapel services at the invitation and under the supervision of the coordinating Chaplain, the Rev’d David Kinder, on behalf of the Criminal Justice Forum in the Diocese of Ely.
- Whilst leading worship in chapel in May 2014 Rev Trayhorn quoted the passage 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (the quoted version is unknown).
- Four days later, a complaint was lodged against Rev Trayhorn. He was immediately suspended from helping with chapel services, and was subsequently told that his comments during the service were ‘homophobic’ and breached national prison policy.
- Rev Trayhorn was informed a disciplinary hearing would follow. He was subsequently signed off work with a stress related illness. During this time, his manager visited him three times at home to discuss work-related issues. On two of those occasions, a senior prison official was present.
- On 4th November 2014, Rev Trayhorn felt that he had no choice but to resign. Two days later, a disciplinary hearing was held in his absence, when he was given a ‘final written warning’.
- Rev Trayhorn, backed by the Christian Legal Centre, is now taking HMP Littlehey to an employment tribunal where he is claiming he was forced out of his main paid job as a gardener at the jail because of the intimidation he suffered as a result of his faith.
Several things are worthy of note and a few comments seem necessary.
First, as the Archbishop Cranmer blog notes, Rev Trayhorn’s claim is not entirely unreasonable. For “it was not Barry Trayhorn’s skills as a paid gardener which had been called into question, but his competence to lead worship as an unpaid chaplain’s assistant.” By all accounts, Rev Trayhorn’s gardening skills have not entered into any discussion and there has been no complaint received over his horticultural prowess. It does, therefore, appear very much as though his quote from the Bible has directly led to the loss of his job as gardener.
Second, Rev Trayhorn received a final written warning at a disciplinary hearing in his absence. Again, as noted by Cranmer, given his gardening skills were not under scrutiny and he had “no previous misdemeanours or complaints recorded against him, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he was disciplined for quoting scriptures about sin which were deemed unpalatable by sinners.”
Third, it seems worth pointing out that Rev Trayhorn did not major on sexual sin at the expense of other forms of sin. It does appear his quote includes the sexually immoral (that is the heterosexual immoral as the verse also goes on to mention those who practice homosexuality), idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and swindlers. Across the range of those sins, and in line with traditional evangelical thought, the list takes aim at just about all people everywhere. It is a more extensive list of Paul’s basic comment in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
Fourth, Rev Trayhorn was not disciplined for offering a particular interpretive view of the verses quoted. In fact, the man only went on to say “the Christian message [is] that God will forgive those who repent.” It is, therefore, highly likely that Rev Trayhorn was disciplined specifically for quoting directly from the Bible.
All of this adds up to the ludicrous position that suggests it is now a felony to state the Bible’s ethical teaching to convicted felons. It is equally ridiculous that prisoners, many of whom have been incarcerated for heinous sexual crimes which both the penal system and wider society recognise as ethically wrong, can claim offence at the biblical position (which is in agreement with both the penal system and wider society on this issue) and make a felon out of the man who dared quote it. Truly this is a nonsense.
Aside from all of this, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that significant portions of the Bible are now prohibited for public proclamation. We are censoring the ethical teachings of a book that played a central role in forming the ethical standard by which our own penal system abides. We are deeming a book that was, until very recently, a central part of school daily assemblies and a copy of which was given to every hotel room in the land to be incompatible with nebulous “British values” which, if they even exist at all, have been drawn from the selfsame source.
Most troubling of all, we already know about the government’s plans to crack down on “extremism in all its forms” (see here, here and here etc). It seems quite clear that ill-defined “British values” must be pressed into every sphere of British public and private life. Anything that does not accord with them will be clamped down. The Home Secretary has already made it clear that those who speak against orthodox cultural utterances stand to lose charitable status and assets such as privately held buildings and cash funds. Some evangelical preachers who pose no physical threat to anybody – regardless of whether you agree with their position or the way in which they communicate it – have begun to feel the force of these measures (eg here).
And this seems to be yet another case of it happening. The chapel at HMP Littlehey is neither a public space nor a mandatory requirement for all prisoners. It is attended voluntarily and nobody is forced to partake in worship or to listen to God’s word against their will. It is, therefore, utterly incredible that the Bible can be censored during a private meeting of Christian worship. Whilst this particular case beggars belief, it is all the more troubling that what is happening in HMP Littlehey and has already reached into some private meeting houses, will increasingly impede the public reading of God’s word and the clear proclamation and explanation of what it contains in more and more churches.
Measures intended to impede acts of terrorism and those propagating such acts are increasingly being used against all manner of political protesters and benign religious groups who pose no physical threat to anybody but who nonetheless do not assent to cultural orthodoxy. The measures are politically obtuse and utterly cowardly. For it seems clear enough that to avoid being seen to target one particular religious group, all people of faith – regardless of what they actually teach and believe or their propensity to call for the death of the infidel – are embroiled in a war against one small group, within one particular strain, of one particular branch of one particular religion. By any measure, it is not fair, it is not equitable, it is not reasonable and it should not stand.