A convicted rapist who became a Christian in prison has won a legal battle claiming he suffered religious discrimination at the mental health unit he resides at when he was denied access to Sunday worship despite Muslim inmates being allowed Friday prayers. Freddie O’Neil, is serving a ten year sentence for rape and is currently an inmate at the John Howard Centre in London. After being transferred to the psychiatric centre in 2018, Mr O’Neil filed a complaint about the lack of Christian services available to inmates. Mr O’Neil claimed his numerous requests were not taken seriously, after which he sought legal action from the Christian Legal Centre (CLC).
A pre-action letter was sent to the East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) stating that, as a Christian, the patient needed to attend Sunday Christian services each week and receive Holy Communion. CLC had been informed that no such service was available, which was in contrast to the Friday prayers being organised for Muslim inpatients each week. In refusing the patient these services, CLC claimed the John Howard Centre was not only discriminating against Christian patients on the grounds of religion, but also breaching a number of its legal obligations including the right to freely exercise their religious faith through worship and observance.
Following a year-long legal battle, O’Neil said he needed to take a stand, not only for his own spiritual needs but for those of his fellow inmates saying: “I am a damaged person, a convicted criminal, but the only true redemption I have found is hope in Jesus Christ. I rely on that input for my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.” Christian services were granted and began on 7th July and there are now reportedly 6-8 people attending these services. Following his victory, Mr O’Neil said: “I am pleased that Christian Sunday services have now started but I am concerned that they have still not been written into the curriculum in the same way as Friday Islamic prayers have.”
The ELFT has denied claims of religious discrimination. In a statement it said: “ELFT’s Spiritual and Religious Department and the John Howard Centre believe strongly that all service users should be able to have their spiritual and religious needs met and we work hard to ensure that everyone is able to observe their faith. “The Spiritual and Religious Department make sure all religious faiths are catered for and have dedicated Christian ministers who diligently attend to individual service users’ needs. “The sacrament of Holy Communion is offered to all Christians at the John Howard Centre and since July 2019 a weekly Christian Sunday is available there for all to attend.”
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