A Christian nurse has been suspended after being accused of "harassment and bullying" because she prayed for her Muslim colleague who was experiencing difficulties.
Victoria Wasteney, a 37-year-old senior occupational health therapist at the John Howard Centre, a secure mental hospital in east London, was reportedly approached by her Muslim colleague, Enya Nawaz, 25, who wanted to discuss her personal and health struggles.
Ms. Wasteney recalled to the Telegraph: '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?' 'She said yes, so I asked for God to bring peace and healing. She left the office afterwards and said she was okay.'"
A short time later, Ms. Nawaz reportedly filed a complaint to the U.K.'s National Health Service, alleging that Ms. Wasteney had tried to convert her to Christianity.
Because the two women often openly discussed their religious beliefs, Ms. Wasteney said she was "shocked" by Ms. Nawaz's decision to file a complaint. "It wasn't a case of me trying to convert her, let alone force Christianity on her. How could you?" she said.
According to the Daily Mail, the East London NHS Foundation Trust responded by suspending Ms. Wasteney for nine months with full pay. At first, the health therapist 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 co-workers.
But on Tuesday, she will 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.
"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?"
According to Ms. Wasteney, she has previously 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 various church events, including a community sports day and an anti-human trafficking meeting.
Although not "a hard-line evangelical" or "anti-Muslim," the nurse says she believes in the freedom of speech and maintaining a sensitivity towards the feelings of others. Ms. Wasteney added that in the past, she has organized faith-related activities for patients from all 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."