Court of Appeal slams university free speech ban on Christian student

The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that merely expressing disagreement with same-sex marriage does not amount to discrimination.

In 2015, during an online debate on same-sex marriage, Felix Ngole, a social work student at the University of Sheffield, commented on Facebook that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin.

The university expelled Mr Ngole and claimed that any expression of disapproval of same-sex relationships would breach the professional guidelines for social workers.

Disproportionate

Overturning a previous High Court decision, the Court of Appeal criticised the university for attempting to introduce a blanket ban on freedom of speech.

“The mere expression of views on theological grounds (e.g. that ‘homosexuality is a sin’) does not necessarily connote that the person expressing such views will discriminate on such grounds.”

The court also pointed out that Ngole had never been shown to act in a discriminatory fashion, and the university had come to the “too rapid and disproportionate” conclusion that he should be removed from his course.

The judges also said if social workers and social work students were banned from ever expressing such views, then Christians and those of other faiths would be prevented from seeking employment in a whole host of other professions.

Free speech

The matter will now return to a Fitness to Practise Committee for further consideration.

Mr Ngole said: “This is great news, not only for me and my family, but for everyone who cares about freedom of speech, especially for those working in or studying for caring professions.

“As Christians we are called to care for and serve others, and publicly and privately we must be free to express our beliefs, especially when asked, without fear of losing our livelihoods.”

No discrimination

The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart welcomed the ruling.

“Congratulations to the Christian Legal Centre for winning this important ruling.

“Too many public institutions view the mere expression of orthodox religious convictions as discriminating.

“In the absence of any evidence of discrimination, this judgment imposes a welcome check.”

Adrian Smith

In 2011, Christian housing manager Adrian Smith was demoted, and his salary cut by 40 per cent for posting on Facebook that same-sex weddings in churches would be “an equality too far”.

He was supported by The Christian Institute, and successfully sued his employers over a breach of contract after the High Court ruled in his favour.

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