Homosexual activist Peter Tatchell has said Trafford Housing Trust was being “excessive and disproportionate” in demoting a Christian employee who posted comments about civil partnerships on Facebook.
Adrian Smith, who worked for the Trust for 18 years, used his own private Facebook page to point to a news article about registering civil partnerships in churches, and added the modest remark: “an equality too far”.
His bosses became aware of it and found him guilty of gross misconduct. They demoted him and slashed his salary by 40 per cent.
In a statement issued today, Peter Tatchell said: “Adrian Smith reportedly made his comments in his own time on his personal facebook page, which is not viewed by the general public. He expressed an opinion.”
He added: “His opposition to religious organisations being forced to conduct same-sex marriages is shared by the Prime Minister and the Equality Minister, the gay rights group Stonewall and the entire leadership of the Church of England. If Mr Smith is guilty, then they are all guilty.
“Mr Smith voiced his opinion in a calm, non-abusive manner. He was not threatening or intimidating.”
Mr Tatchell made it clear that he does not agree with Mr Smith’s opinions, but defends his freedom of speech.
He said the response of Trafford Housing Trust to Mr Smith’s remarks “is excessive and disproportionate” and he urged the Trust “to revoke his demotion and salary cut”.
Mr Smith is taking his employer to court, backed by The Christian Institute. Spokesman 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.”
Earlier this week Guardian writer, Ally Fogg, said: “If the trust was concerned about its reputation for inclusiveness and tolerance, it couldn’t have got things more badly wrong.”
Cristina Odone writing in the Daily Telegraph said: “As Mr Smith’s case shows, a dissenting point of view can ruin your professional life even when it is expressed in private.”
An editorial in the Mail on Sunday said: “The sinister process by which he has been denounced and then impoverished is deeply disturbing. His beliefs have nothing to do with his performance of his duties.
It continued: “If the Trust’s high-handed and despotic behaviour goes unchallenged, all of us will be significantly less free.”
Lawyer Neil Addison, who comments on religious liberty legal issues, warned of a “new generation of publicly paid heresy-hunters”.
He said Mr Smith’s case is “only the latest and possibly the most extreme example of the fact that British public bodies have ceased to have any respect whatsoever for the principle of freedom of speech”.