A Christian employee of a housing association in Manchester has been demoted and had his salary slashed by 40 per cent because of his Facebook comments about same-sex civil partnerships in churches.
Adrian Smith is taking his employer, Trafford Housing Trust, to court for interference with his rights to free speech and religious liberty; and for breach of contract.
He is being supported in his legal action by The Christian Institute, a national charity that defends the religious liberty of Christians.
Mr Smith made the comments outside work time on his personal Facebook page, but his bosses at Trafford Housing Trust said it damaged the Trust’s reputation and amounted to gross misconduct.
They demoted him from his managerial post and drastically cut his pay.
The events started on Sunday 13 February this year when Mr Smith noted a news report from the BBC News website, headlined “Gay church marriages get go ahead”.
He posted a link to the report on his Facebook page, adding the comment “an equality too far”.
Two colleagues read his Facebook comment. One of them posted a response asking Mr Smith to explain what he meant.
On the evening of Monday 14 February Mr Smith posted: “I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience”.
Colleagues later complained to managers at Trafford Housing Trust, and after an investigation the managers started disciplinary proceedings against Mr Smith.
Bosses concluded that he was guilty of gross misconduct. They said they could have dismissed him, but because of his loyal service over 18 years they decided to demote him and cut his salary by 40 per cent.
Mr Smith appealed against the decision, but it was upheld by senior managers.
He is now taking his employer to court, seeking compensation for his loss in income and a declaration that his employer’s actions are an unlawful interference with his rights to free speech and religious liberty.
Mr Smith’s solicitor, Tom Ellis of Manchester-based law firm Aughton Ainsworth, said: “Adrian was shocked and distressed to have been disciplined in this way for expressing his opinion on his Facebook page.
“He never expected this to happen, it came completely out of the blue. Adrian took it as far as he could within the Trust but the Trust is standing by its decision.
“We sent a letter to the Trust asking that Adrian be given back his job but the Trust refused to respond substantively to our letter. Adrian had no other choice but to seek justice through the court.
“As a Christian, Adrian believes in the values of fairness, courtesy and respect for the opinions of others. These are the values of a mature and healthy society.
“Surely that leaves room for colleagues to discuss and even disagree about the topics of the day. Conversations like that happen in offices and factories up and down the country every day.
“When Adrian was told that he was being demoted with a 40 per cent cut in salary, he was stunned. It was all the more shocking because this was being done in the name of equality and diversity.
“Nothing he said was offensive or abusive. His comments were calm, measured and reasonable. Adrian has been treated disproportionately and even those who disagree with his opinions will surely agree that he has been treated unfairly.”
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We’re not talking about a Christian who shoves his opinions down the throats of his colleagues.
“Mr Smith made completely tame and inoffensive remarks outside of work time on his personal Facebook page.
“The comments certainly don’t amount to gross misconduct, which is usually reserved for things like theft or fraud. His bosses should get some sense of perspective.
“Employers have a responsibility to protect the rights of their staff – and that includes their Christian staff.
“One set of rights should not trump another. It looks to me like there has been some sort of witch hunt against Mr Smith simply because of his Christian views.”