A Christian nurse says the U.K.'s National Health Service suspended her for "harassment and bullying" because she prayed a short prayer for her Muslim colleague who was going through heath and personal problems. The nurse is filing a legal challenge against the NHS.
"God, I trust You will bring peace and You will bring healing," Victoria Wasteney, a 37-year-old senior occupational health therapist at the John Howard Centre, a secure mental hospital in east London, prayed for her Muslim colleague, Enya Nawaz, 25, according to The Telegraph.
East London NHS Foundation Trust suspended her for nine months, but on full pay. The complaint was filed by the colleague after her juniors allegedly pressured her to do so, according to The Daily Mail.
Initially, Wasteney accepted a written warning, which would remain on her employment record for 12 months, and also accepted several conditions meant to prevent her from discussing her faith and beliefs with colleagues.
However, on Tuesday, she plans to file a legal challenge against the trust for discrimination on grounds of religion and for infringing her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Wasteney, from Buckhurst Hill, Essex, says she cannot accept the stifling of ordinary conversations about faith in the workplace.
"It's ridiculous that people now feel they cannot openly discuss religion or their own spirituality," she was quoted as saying. "Do we want to reach the point where people are scared to invite colleagues and work friends to events like their children's Christening or a wedding for fear of offending?"
She had earlier given her colleague a book, I Dared to Call Him Father, which is about a Muslim woman who converts to Christianity, and invited her to church events, including a community sports day and an anti-human trafficking meeting.
The nurse said she is not "a hard-line evangelical" or "anti-Muslim." "I believe in freedom of speech, but I've always believed we should be sensitive to one another's beliefs and feelings."
In the past, she has helped organize faith activities for patients from different religious backgrounds. "It's an important part of the therapeutical process that people discuss and explore their feelings and beliefs," she said.
"We discussed our beliefs but I certainly didn't tell her that my way was the only way. I don't even believe it's possible to force someone to convert. But the way it was all handled left me looking like a religious nutcase and I would like an acknowledgement that there is a negative attitude towards Christianity in some areas of the public sector."
About the day she prayed for Nawaz, the nurse said her colleague came to her in tears because of health problems. "I put my hand on her knee to comfort her and asked if that was okay, and said, 'Would you like me to pray for you?'" Wasteney said.
"She said yes, so I asked for God to bring peace and healing. She left the office afterwards and said she was okay."