We live in a society which is secular, where we are governed by the rule of law, and those working in the public sector are expected, regardless of their personal beliefs, to treat everyone equally, and not to discriminate. Yet Graham Cogman decided that being a Christian licensed him to abuse the responsibilities inherent in free speech, his job description as a police officer, and ultimately the ruling of a previous disciplinary tribunal. He had threatened his employer with a tribunal for religious discrimination for disciplining him for sending out homophobic religious emails to colleagues, saying:
“The blatant support for homosexual rights in Norfolk Police makes being a Christian officer extremely difficult.”
“I am not undertaking this action lightly but I have to make a stand when things become so blatantly biased against me just because I hold a faith.”
However a fresh disciplinary tribunal disagreed and sacked him:
He was sent to a disciplinary tribunal who fined him 13 days pay and barred him from using the internal messaging system.
Despite the ban, PC Cogman posted a link to an American Christian helpline.
When he was interviewed by bosses about it he said he had posted the link as he was trying to help people struggling with their sexuality.
The link was to Christian helpline that PC Cogman said had helped a friend who was struggling with their sexuality.
In response to this Norfolk Police felt it appropriate to take PC Cogman to a disciplinary hearing, which was held yesterday.
He was found guilty of of failing to comply with a lawful order over the use of police computers and failing to treat a colleague with politeness and tolerance.
They quite rightly sent out the message that his religion did not trump his responsibilities as an employee, that his religion did not justify homophobic behaviour, that he can’t have an opt out of the reponsibilites the rest of us have to one another, purely because he chooses to see his religion as legitimising discrimination (which it does not). Deputy Chief Constable Ian Learmonth of the Norfolk Police said:
“This officer’s behaviour fell well below what we expect of our people,”
“The outcome follows a thorough investigation with evidence presented to a misconduct panel of three, two of whom were independent of the constabulary.”
I find the outcome reassuring. These attempts to justify homophobia through religion are becoming widespread – attacks on theatre, art, television and books are now commonplace, as are attempts to ‘opt out’ of working with or serving gay people as one would straight people. If you can’t fathom that religious scripture is not universally applicable today as it may have been two thousand years ago, if you can’t critically evaluate ancient religious texts in relation to the world around you, you probably shouldn’t be working in the public sector, and accordingly now Cogman is not. This was a blatant case of someone justifying their own bigoted ideas on religious grounds, at a time when mainstream religion is tentatively accepting social change. Ian McKellen was right when he said:
“The particular problem they’ve all got and share is homophobia. And having it they root around in the Bible to discover the very few passages that seem to be relevant. But people like the Bishop (Gene Robinson), like the Quakers, like many people I marched with in Gay Pride last week, gay Christians, gay Jews, gay Muslims are at ease with their faith and their position in society.”