Trafford Housing Trust “looks vindictive” for its decision to demote a Christian who posted inoffensive remarks about his religious opinions on Facebook, a New Statesman writer says.
But the writer, Nelson Jones, believes the case has more to do with “freedom to be yourself” than religious liberty.
Mr Jones is the latest commentator to criticise the Trust’s actions, joining homosexual activist Peter Tatchell and Guardian writer Ally Fogg.
The case centres around Adrian Smith, a Christian who posted a link on his private Facebook page outside of work time linking to a news article on civil partnerships in churches, adding the comment “an equality too far”.
Mr Smith also 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”.
Mr Smith’s managers at Trafford Housing Trust demoted him from his managerial position and cut his salary by 40 per cent.
Writing on the New Statesman website, Mr Jones says: “Unless there were aggravating factors (and Trafford Housing Trust has declined to go into much detail), this looks like an overreaction. It looks vindictive.
“The Trust has issued a statement, the first two paragraphs of which, ominously, are taken up with self-congratulatory remarks,” he said.
He added: “The fact that Adrian Smith was expressing a view derived from his understanding of Christianity is (or should be) incidental.
“The real question is whether, in a free and democratic society, an employer should have the right to limit what its employees do or think in a private capacity.
“Smith’s Facebook page was, we are told, readable only by friends (or at any rate by Facebook friends), but even had it been public the number of people who saw it will have been small.
“No one can have been under the impression that Smith was making the statement as an official representative of Trafford Housing Trust, even if he did mention his job in his personal profile. The very notion is absurd.
“Had he been commenting on housing policy or making offensive personal comments about colleagues, the Trust would have been entitled to take disciplinary action.
“But Smith’s opinions on gay marriage or the Bible are utterly irrelevant to his functioning as a housing manager. Public or private, and so long as they are not criminally inciteful, his opinions are his business.
“Trafford Housing Trust seems to have embraced (and even codified) a dangerous doctrine that their employees are never off-duty; that everything they do or say publicly is done or said on behalf of the company; that their opinions are no longer their own but they can only express views in accordance with company policy.
“In a free society, this is outrageous. Indeed, it is tyrannical. It so happened that Adrian Smith had an opinion about gay marriage.”
Mr Jones concluded: “This case is not really about religious freedom at all. It’s about freedom to be yourself, even if you are fortunate enough to work for a company that has been ‘recognised by Investors in People with their Gold and Health and Wellbeing Awards.'”