Court of Appeal to decide if professionals have free speech

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A CHRISTIAN student is to challenge the University of Sheffield’s decision to expel him from his course for Facebook comments at the Court of Appeal next week (12 MAR). The case will have implications for whether the 6 million regulated professionals in the UK truly have freedom of speech.

Felix Ngole, now 40 years old, was studying for an MA in Social Work at the University of  Sheffield in 2015 when he made comments using his personal Facebook account on the story of the American registrar Kim Davis, who had been imprisoned after conscientiously refusing to register same-sex marriages. Mr Ngole expressed his Christian beliefs on the issue and argued that: “same sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not. It is God’s words and man’s sentiments would not change His words.” He was asked where in the Bible it says that same-sex marriage is wrong, and he quoted various passages to demonstrate this.

Two months later, Mr Ngole received a university email official informing him that his Facebook comments were being investigated. He was interviewed by an investigatory team, and subsequently removed from his course by a panel chaired by Professor Jacqueline Marsh, a well-known LGBT campaigner. The effect of the student’s dismissal is that he will no longer be able to become a social worker, denying him both opportunity to take a full role in a career of his choosing, but also to receive appropriate remuneration.

In October 2018, Mr Ngole was granted permission to appeal the High Court’s judgment that the decision to remove Mr Ngole from his course was fair and proportionate.

Mr Ngole will be represented in court by the experienced religious freedoms barrister, Paul Diamond, who will argue that the High Court judgment is wrong in law and implies that all 6 million UK workers in regulated professions (e.g. doctors, teachers, lawyers) could be silenced or purged by their professional bodies for publicly expressing unpopular beliefs.

Mr Ngole said: “I pray that the court will recognise the freedom to express my Christian faith. It is chilling that we live in a society where you can share your beliefs on social media and yet you find yourself in trouble when certain people disagree with you.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is backing the student, said: “The CLC has helped many Christians who have been under pressure, disciplined or even dismissed for letting their faith in God affect how they lovingly serve others in the workplace. But the intolerance shown to Felix goes beyond even that – extending to Facebook comments, made in his own time, on his own profile.

“The comments Felix made were not inciting hatred nor motivated by hostility. Felix simply stated his support for another Christian and accurately answered a question on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

“Free speech is not meaningfully free if it only applies to views that everyone finds acceptable, or only applies in private. Without free speech, the ideas and ideology of cultural elites – whomever they may be – cannot be challenged and democracy becomes impossible. Everyone should support Felix, because without this freedom being protected, anyone regulated by a professional body could have their career ended simply for posting views online that the employer doesn’t like.

“Once again, the freedom to be a committed Christian while holding a professional role is under threat. From magistrates to nurses, teachers to doctors, Christian professionals are increasingly under pressure to hide away their beliefs – to hide away the light of Christ in them, depriving society of the love of Jesus.”

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