Peripatetic teacher Olive Jones – dismissed for offering prayer to family.
On the face of it, this sounds like a case in which a teacher has indeed been treated very unfairly. A teacher sacked merely for offering to pray for a family? Outrageous!
However, some quick research online revealed that this case was not quite what it appeared to be. The situation was this. A fourteen year old girl with cancer, who could no longer attend school, was assigned a home maths teacher by a local council-run tuition service. The teacher, Olive Jones, spoke about miraculous healings and offered to pray both with and for the girl. The girl’s mother said that Jones used every opportunity to talk about religion. She said her daughter was traumatized by Jones’s comments and offers, and that she repeatedly asked Olive Jones to stop “preaching” to her daughter. The mother added, “the meetings with Ms. Jones became increasingly traumatic and [sic] decided it was not appropriate for this woman to come to my house.” As a result of the mother’s complaint, Jones was suspended. Jones had been warned about her conduct three years before when another family complained about similar behaviour.
Olive Jones immediately went to the CLC, which took up her case and issued a press release stating that Jones had been sacked the day after the complaint (which was untrue). As a result of this press release, the Daily Mail ran a front page headline article in which it in turn repeated the untrue claim that Jones had been sacked. In fact, Jones had merely been suspended while her employers investigated. They offered Jones several opportunities to come in and offer her side of the story. Instead, Jones went to the CLC. Jones is reported to have said about this case:
I am surprised that a country with a very strong Christian tradition has become a country where it is difficult to talk about their faith.
The Daily Mail said in its editorial that this case was further evidence that
the slow takeover of this country by politically correct zealots, continues to grow. Daily Mail, Sunday December 20th 2009
On closer examination, the Olive Jones case turns out to be something very different from what one might have guessed looking at the CLC’s handout, press release, or the resulting Daily Mail editorial. Clearly, what was complained about was not an innocent case of “offering prayer to family” but persistent preaching that caused both the daughter and her family considerable distress. Surely it was right that Jones’s employer suspend her while they looked into this complaint, given both its serious nature and also the fact that this was the second such complaint that had been made about Jones. Nevertheless, here was the CLC, two and a half years later, handing out leaflets stating that Jones had been sacked for “offering a prayer to family”. In the Q&A session immediately after the CLC representative had spoken, I asked if Jones had at least eventually been sacked. Someone more knowledgable about the case was then summoned, who merely repeated the false claim that Jones was sacked the day after the complaint was made.
This is just one case drawn from the CLCs long list of supposed injusticies distributed at their meeting. If the first case picked at random should turn out, on closer inspection, to involve no obvious injustice at all, and indeed if the CLC should, years later, still be providing information about the case that is not only highly misleading but actually false, that suggests to me that we ought not to place too much confidence in other alleged claims of injustice made by the CLC and subsequently repeated across the media.
Is the freedom of British Christians to speak freely about their faith, and act accordance with their religious conscience, being significantly and unjustly undermined? Media-hyped anecdotes such as that concerning Olive Jones have succeeded in creating that impression in certain circles, but many – including many Christians – remain skeptical.