Sunday, 20 December 2009

Who are the zealots?

Yesterday, this blog argued that the Mail often seems more obsessed with political correctness than the so-called 'PC Brigade' (whatever that is).

This followed their claim that the Warwickshire Justice Centre had banned Christmas decorations, when their own story clearly showed that wasn't the case.

And the Mail on Sunday has taken the baton and stuck a 'PC gone mad story' on the front page today.

There is a slight problem in blogging about this article because it is such a shockingly one-sided, half-baked account of what has happened you know this isn't the whole story.

Unless you are the Mail and journalist Jonathan Petre, who seems to have made a career out of stories about how Christians are oh-so-persecuted. In which case, the devout Christian must be right.

The difference in the level of research is stark. In yesterday's story, it was clear the journalist hadn't been to the Centre in question to check out the decorations for himself. For this story, Petre has gone to Weston-Super-Mare to interview the subject, Olive Jones, in her home:

Mrs Jones shares her comfortable four-bedroom house with her husband Peter...The house provides few clues about her strong beliefs. There is a small wooden cross on one wall, a few plaques carrying religious texts, and some Bibles in the sitting room.

'Few clues'? Surely that should be 'quite a few clues'?

And it's clear he is on her side. He litters the story with attempts at grabbing sympathy for Jones. She's a

softly spoken teacher


youngest son is a Royal Marine who has served in Afghanistan


only later realised her words had caused distress, for which she is apologetic.


Here's the version of the story that the Mail wants you to believe: Mrs Jones went to teach a sick girl in the student's home, offered to pray for her and was then sacked.

So let's look at that front page headline again: Praying for sick girl 'was bullying'.

This is a lie, as no praying actually took place. And the key quote from the story reveals:

Mrs Jones said that during the meeting Ms Robinson [Jones' boss] told her that talking about faith issues in the house of a pupil could be regarded as bullying.

So it 'could be' regarded as bullying. Not 'was bullying'. And that's her account, not her employers'.

Despite the fact that almost every other media outlet is now repeating the claim that offering a prayer was what she was 'sacked' for, it doesn't appear that it was actually the main problem.

Here's what you can unpick from the article: Jones taught maths to children too ill to attend school. On the fourth time she went to this particular child's house, the girl was too unwell to do the lesson so Jones:

chatted to her mother and raised the subject of her faith, saying she believed God had saved her life.

The teacher said when she was a teenager she had been driving a tractor on the family farm near Carmarthen in Wales when it slid down a slope but came to a halt just before tipping over.

‘I shut my eyes and thought I was going to die,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘Then there was a sound of a rushing wind, like that described in the Bible, and then total stillness.

‘I was convinced it was a miracle. I shared my testimony to encourage the mother to believe that there is a God who answers prayer. I believe I have a personal relationship with God, who is a constant source of strength.’

The non-believing mother must have been thrilled about that. Indeed, the article says the mother complained to Jones' employers about this, but claims these concerns were not passed to the teacher.

Two lessons after that one, the girl was once again too ill to study:

Mrs Jones once again referred to the incident involving the tractor and spoke about her belief in Heaven. ‘I told them there were people praying for them, and I asked the child if I could pray for her,’ said Mrs Jones.

Later in the article Jones is quoted saying:

'I don’t push my beliefs down other people’s throats'.

Going to someone's house and telling people your life has been saved by a direct intervention from God twice in three meetings would strike most people as pushing your beliefs down their throats.

It turns out that Jones had been warned about her conduct three years before when another girl complained about similar behaviour, so it's not as if this was a one-off. But it's also clearly not just about a prayer.

Imagine that this teacher was a Muslim. Imagine this Muslim claiming she'd been sacked for talking about religion in front of a sick child. Which side would the Mail take in that instance?

But then it gets more curious, because Petre explains:

She said that although she was clear that she had been sacked, she had recently been approached by a senior education official who had said the complaint was still being investigated and had suggested a meeting.

It's not quite clear what that means, as it suggests the sacking might not be as clear-cut as the Mail on Sunday has led us to believe. Indeed, the BBC are currently saying she has only been 'suspended'.

The inevitable quote for the defence implies as much too, so, as usual, it's tucked right at the end:

Nick Yates, a spokesman for North Somerset Council, said: ‘Olive Jones has worked as a supply teacher, working with the North Somerset Tuition service. A complaint has been made by a parent regarding Olive. This complaint is being investigated.

‘To complete the investigation we need to speak to Olive and we have offered her a number of dates so this can happen. At the moment we are waiting for her to let us know which date is convenient for her.’

So rather than organise a date with her employers to resolve the situation, Jones instead organises an interview with a journo from the Mail. If she's been as badly affected by this as she claims shouldn't she be trying to resolve the situation?

In fact, she says she has been so upset:

'I haven’t even got around to putting up a Christmas tree or decorations.'

Five days before Christmas and no decorations up? The zealot! It's political correctness gone mad! Etc...

Her lack of contact with the Council just adds to the feeling this is a very biased tale being told here. That quote from Yates is the only one from the other side of the story. Nothing from the mother involved (although she would probably be best advised to avoid the media attention), nothing from her immediate boss, nothing from the Council about the actual events.

Yet Jones gets to speak, as does one of her (Christian) friends and the director of the Christian Legal Centre.

The full story will emerge, at some point. By which time, everyone will believe a Christian was sacked just for being a Christian and the PC myth grows and grows, whether it is true or not.

The Mail on Sunday editorial is adamant:

The new state religion of this country is 'equality and diversity'. Unlike Christianity, this belief system is actually compulsory. Neutrality or indifference are, increasingly, forbidden. All must at least pay lip service to the church of Human Rights.

Really? So perhaps the Mail newspapers would like to reveal how many people it employs from ethnic minorites (excluding cleaners) so we can see just how much they have been 'compelled' to bow down to 'equality and diversity'.

Among the Editors and main writers there is Paul Dacre, Peter Wright, Robin Esser, Tom Utley, Quentin Letts, Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Philips, Amanda Platell, Liz Jones, Jan Moir, Peter Hitchens, Max Hastings, Allison Pearson, Piers Morgan, Stephen Glover, Janet Street-Porter, William Rees-Mogg, Des Kelly, Richard Kay, Peter McKay, Dan Atkinson, Mary Ellen Synon, Kate Nicholl, A.N. Wilson, Chris Tookey...

In fact, looking through their columnists it appears Baz Bamigboye and Monty Panesar are the only ethnic minority faces in a very, very long list. That's an interesting definition of 'compulsory'.

But back to the editorial, which announces without any doubt whatsoever:

Mrs Jones was accused by her local authority of 'bullying' a pupil.

Despite the fact the story doesn't say this.

And it's all part of a wider plot:

the fundamental problem, the slow takeover of this country by politically correct zealots, continues to grow.

Ah, the 'politically correct zealots'. Those same zealots who don't make kids wear goggles for conkers, don't ban tinsel, don't ban piggy banks, don't ban carol singers, don't ban the word 'Christmas', don't want to downgrade Christmas, don't ban certain jokes from crackers, don't ban the word 'nativity', don't ban the word 'blacklisting', and don't do lots of other things they are accused of doing.

That is a slow takeover. Where will those dastardly zealots not strike next?


  1. You do get these cases every so often - not nearly as often as the Mail or the Christian Institute would like you to believe, which is why the front page can be cleared for them. And as you say, there's a lot we don't know.

    From my experience, they don't stem from a mythical "PC brigade", but from HR departments being too rigid in dealing with cases that could have been sorted out with a bit of quiet discussion. Instead we get the Christian Institute going "ZOMG! Christians are being persecuted!", followed by the Mail going "ZOMG! It's PC gorn mad!", followed by the National Secular Society going "ZOMG! Teh theocrats are taking over!", and before you know it the original story is completely irrelevant.

    Sheesh. It doesn't actually do the woman much good, but it will shift papers and confirm people's prejudices. Which, as we all know, is the greater good.

  2. She told the story on Radio 5 about 0030 last night.

    Gently treated by the interviewer IMHO.

  3. I'd love to know what is the Mail's policy on uploading comments as they seemed to have stopped for the original story about 1:35 in the morning. My comment about the woman showing a lack of professionalism (she's there to teach maths not for pastoral care) didn't make it.

    Neither they did allow comments on their own 'Comment' piece despite seemingly allowing them.

    It's almost as if they get to a few juicy comments which they like and then stop so that people who don't bother looking beyond the first few can green/red arrow like mad. They wouldn't do that surely?


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