Sadly, it’s still safest to watch what you say.

When I read in the Mail on Sunday about the Rev Barry Trayhorn losing his job because he quoted some verses from Corinthians in the prison chapel I thought— here we go again! All these words I have trouble with: homophobia, offensive, demeaning. But I was wrong. This is an infinitely more complex problem, and certainly incredibly confusing for one who tries to use common sense to navigate her way through life.

The Revd Trayhorn is now taking the prison authorities to a tribunal for wrongful dismissal. I’m writing this before the result of the tribunal is known but that doesn’t matter because it’s the rights and wrongs of the case that is worrying me. It’s all the odd twists and turns that have occurred along the way that a puzzling.

So I’ll begin at the beginning. The Rev Barry Trayhorn, married with three children and now aged 51 (not a good age at which to get the sack) joined the staff at Littlehey prison near Huntingdon—a category C prison for sex offenders—at the beginning of 2011. His actual job was supervising the gardeners and here’s a fascinating fact; his job description was tent maker. St Paul was a tent maker and it was verses from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that have caused all the fuss.

First Corinthians, chapter 6, verses 9 to 11. The online sources that I read thought it was probably the NIV translation of the Bible. That certainly spells it out.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 

One prisoner in the congregation who objected to these words apparently complained four days later. As a result, Barry was suspended from his work in the chapel.

There’s a lot here for me to muse about. Suppose, for a start, Barry had used the RSV version.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.

Is that version a bit less ‘in your face’?

Why complain in the first place? Chapel going is not compulsory – why not just walk out? I never actually walked out of the church during a service although I did come very close to it at the beginning of this year. Had I done so, I learned later, that four other people would have probably walked out with me. And yes, it was about sex. Homo-sex in fact. The preacher chose to walk up and down the aisle brandishing a Bible aloft, explaining that the rules in Leviticus no longer applied and if we didn’t all agree with same-sex marriage we were Pharisees. It was undoubtedly the most unpleasant, uncomfortable time I have ever spent in any church anywhere in the world.

Why wait for four days to complain? In the white heat of anger wouldn’t you be more likely to rush immediately to the chaplain or the governor or ask for a private cell meeting to discuss your problem; a sort of combined confession, instruction and anger management course with the chaplain. Barry is a Pentecostal minister, after all, and not likely to appeal to a traditional Anglican. On the other hand, boredom must be one of the worst aspects of prison life—little hope of sharing your cell with someone with the wit and wisdom of the redoubtable Norman Stanley Fletcher – and a real rabble-rousing Pentecostal fire and brimstone sermon, with music and alleluias will surely brighten up a bleak Sunday. This happened in May.

Soon after Barry joined the prison, the chaplain, Rev David Kinder, enlisted his help in providing music for chapel services, since Barry is a Country and Western singer. In February last year there had been a complaint about a remark Barry was supposed to have made on same-sex marriage. Remember, this is a prison where many of the inmates have committed “horrific sex abuse crimes” according to the Mail. Even within the chapel you would need to be careful how you chose your words. In April 2014 Barry was told he couldn’t actually preach in the chapel “because he had not completed anti-terrorist paperwork for clearance to work as a chaplain.”

Were the prison officials beginning to realise they had a bit of a firebrand in their midst? If this was the case why on earth did they not sit down together at this stage, Barry, the chaplain, the governor and probably a line manager of some sort, and try to work out exactly what Barry could and should safely say within the limits of his conscience. Then he would never have got to the point where he chose the most controversial translation of St Paul.

This muzzling of people, after one complaint, is not just worrying; it’s terrifying. And never more so than when university students—supposedly liberal, intelligent, educated—demand that someone should be ” unplatformed.” What a word! It’s yet another nail in the coffin of free speech. If you are clever enough and privileged enough to be a student at Cardiff University no one has the right to bully you into going to listen to Germaine Greer. If you think you won’t like what you think she might say don’t attend her lecture. If you are a sex offender in prison for your crime no one will force you to go to chapel. If you don’t like hearing about sin—and few people do these days—stay away.

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