Adoption doctor loses religious bias claim

A Christian paediatrician who was dismissed from an adoption panel over her belief that children should not be placed with same-sex couples today lost her claim for religious discrimination.

Dr Sheila Matthews, who sat on an adoption panel for Northamptonshire County Council, lost the job when she asked to abstain from voting in cases where homosexual couples were planning to adopt because of her religious beliefs.

Concluding a two-day employment tribunal in Leicester, regional employment judge John MacMillan said: "The complaints of religious discrimination fail and are dismissed.

"This case fails fairly and squarely on its facts."

He added: "In our judgment, at least from the time of the pre-hearing review, the continuation of these proceedings was plainly misconceived...they were doomed to fail.

"There is simply no factual basis for the claims."

Mr MacMillan said there was no evidence that Dr Matthews was treated differently from any other panel member who might request to abstain from voting, or that she was specifically discriminated against on the basis of her Christianity.

He said the issue "transcends the boundaries of all religion" and ruled that Dr Matthews should pay the respondents' costs.

The 50-year-old, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, told the hearing she felt that children "do best" in a home "with two parents of different gender who are in a long-term committed relationship".

Dr Matthews, who was dismissed from the adoption panel in April last year, told the tribunal: "As a Christian, my faith leads me to believe that marriage between a man and a woman in a faithful monogamous sexual relationship is the most appropriate environment for the upbringing of children.

"I believe the Bible shows God's ideal pattern for healthy living, where family units are headed by socially and legally recognised heterosexual couples committed to lifelong partnership.

"The Bible is also clear that homosexual practice is not how God wants us to live."

Dr Matthews told the hearing she first began researching the issue of same sex adoption after attending a training course on gay, lesbian and bisexual parenting, in March 2004.

She said: "Having considered research and opinions from different sources I became aware there was evidence to suggest that children placed with same sex couples did less well. I am aware that there are different viewpoints but I believe that there are many reasonable people who believe as I do."

Mr MacMillan said he believed her views were based more upon the scientific literature she had read than on her religious beliefs.

He said: "She was honest enough to admit that had the scientific literature pointed her in a different direction, she might not have taken the stance that she ultimately took."

He added: "There is no doubt in the mind of this tribunal that it was what she read in the published literature that led her to the conclusion that she could no longer support same sex adoption applications."

Martin Pratt, the council's former head of services for children, young people and families, told the tribunal the authority wrote to Dr Matthews in April last year to terminate her position on the panel, after she told him she was unable to set aside her beliefs on the issue of same sex couples.

He said: "I asked her whether she could consider applicants on their merits ... and she said she could not.

"She did not believe it was in the interests of the child to be adopted by a same sex couple.

"She felt that she could not vote or participate in the panel."

Mr Pratt, who now works for Luton Borough Council, added: "She said she had a religious objection and made reference to there being some research.

"Both of these were part of Dr Matthews' reasoning for her decision.

"Primarily it was a religious matter, I think.

"Her inability to act fully in her capacity posed a serious problem. The claimant's position was in direct contradiction to the respondent's policies."