Tribunal Finds Scotland’s Largest Trust Guilty of Religious Discrimination

Tribunal Finds Scotland’s Largest Trust Guilty of Religious Discrimination

An employment tribunal in Scotland ruled July 28 that The Robertson Trust, the country’s largest independent grant-making trust, unlawfully discriminated against its former CEO because of his Christian views on marriage.

Kenneth Ferguson, CEO of the trust since 2011 and an elder at Stirling Free Church, was dismissed from the organization in March 2020 after its chairwoman, Shonaig Macpherson, was informed that Ferguson’s church had rented the Barracks Conference Centre, a Robertson Trust property, for its Sunday services.

Stirling Free Church, which opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, signed a one-year contract with the trust in June 2019. But the contract was abruptly terminated in November 2019, with the trust claiming it had a policy preventing it from renting space for activities promoting religion or politics.

However, when the church wrote to the trust asking for a copy of the policy, the head of finance revealed that no “explicit policy” existed and decisions were made “on a case-by-case basis.”

Following the contract cancellation, Ferguson said that Macpherson, knowing he was involved in the church and held a Biblical view of marriage, began to treat him poorly.  

Macpherson said that Ferguson was let go for “performance issues.” But the tribunal observed that Macpherson appeared to be “seeking to find reasons” to justify firing Ferguson prior to March 2020.

Highlighting the “very unusual process” employed in the dismissal of Ferguson, the majority of the tribunal decided that “the issue of the beliefs of the claimant and church with which he was associated” had been on the mind of MacPherson throughout the whole procedure.

The tribunal concluded that “the picture painted” was “a suspicious one.”

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is also currently pursuing a discrimination claim against The Robertson Trust under the UK Equality Act 2010, as the organization similarly had its contract for a one-time meeting for 100-150 people terminated without explanation.

Responding to the tribunal’s July 28 ruling, Ferguson said: “I’m just relieved this is over. It’s been a very difficult time for me and my family.

“I was treated by The Robertson Trust in a way I had never been treated before in my whole professional life. But I’m satisfied that justice has been done. The tribunal has ruled that [the trust was] wrong to behave that way, and I’m grateful.”

He added: “I also want to thank those who have supported me and prayed for me.”

“This ruling is a welcome re-statement of the principle, upheld again and again in the courts, that the Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman is a belief protected by equality law and worthy of respect in a democratic society,” said Simon Calvert, The Christian Institute’s deputy director for public affairs. “This is a just outcome and one which sounds a warning to those who think they can mistreat Christians in the workplace.”

Another hearing will be held to determine the amount of damages which The Robertson Trust will be required to pay Ferguson.

Photo: Courtesy of The Christian Institute

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