Christian school worker, Kristie Higgs, to appeal after being denied justice by Employment Tribunal7 October 2020 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
Bristol Employment Tribunal has rejected Kristie Higgs’s claims for discrimination and harassment in connection with her dismissal for two Facebook posts that raised concerns about transgenderism and sex education at her son’s Church of England primary school.
Ironically, the decision has been made shortly after new Government guidelines have restricted the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum to prevent the LGBT indoctrination of children – vindicating the protests of parents such as Mrs Higgs.
Nevertheless, the Tribunal has concluded that Mrs Higgs’s dismissal by Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, was not related to the Christian beliefs she expressed on social media, such as her opposition to sex education in primary schools or to the idea of gender fluidity.
Rather, her dismissal “was the result of a genuine belief on the part of the School that she had committed gross misconduct”, says Employment Judge Reed.
“Although not stated as clearly or simply as this, the act of which we concluded Mrs Higgs was accused and eventually found guilty was posting items on Facebook that might reasonably lead people who read her posts to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic”, the judgment reads. “That behaviour, the School felt, had the potential for a negative impact in relation to various groups of people, namely pupils, parents, staff and the wider community.”
The Tribunal has acknowledged that Mrs Higgs’s Christian beliefs on sexual ethics do not equate to homophobia or transphobia. The judgment notes: “she told us she “loved everyone” and there was no reason to believe she would behave towards any person in a way such as to deliberately and gratuitously upset or offend them.”
However, the Tribunal agreed with the School’s position that it was concerned that readers of her Facebook posts would see them as homophobic and transphobic rather than merely an expression of Christian beliefs “in a temperate and rational way.”
Mrs Higgs, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, intends to appeal the decision shortly.
Two Facebook posts
In late October 2018, mother of two, Mrs Higgs, who for seven years had worked at the school without any complaints, shared two posts on her private Facebook page, that made no mention of her employer, under her maiden name.
The first post encouraged friends and family to sign a petition challenging the government’s plans to introduce Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) to children in primary schools.
The post flagged that a government consultation on plans to make RSE mandatory for children as young as four was coming to a close, and asked its readers to sign a nationwide petition calling on the government to uphold the rights of parents to have children educated in line with their religious beliefs.
A similar petition was subsequently signed by over 115,000 people and was debated in parliament.
The Department of Education has recently published new RSE guidance which seeks to address the concerns raised in those petitions.
In the second post, Mrs Higgs shared an article from Judybeth.com on the rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in American schools and added her own comment: “This is happening in our primary schools now.”
The article critiqued the same LGBT ‘No Outsiders’ books promoting transgenderism to children that Mrs Higgs had discovered were being introduced in her son’s Church of England primary school.
The following weekend, Matthew Evans, the headteacher of Farmor’s School, received an anonymous complaint which described the posts as ‘homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community’.
In response, Mr Evans asked the complainant to find more “offensive posts” on Mrs Higgs’s Facebook page, and promised to take immediate action.
The following week, despite the posts being only visible to her friends, Mrs Higgs was pulled into a meeting by Mr Evans.
Mr Evans read a letter out telling her that she would be suspended and that an investigation would follow for gross misconduct. Told she had to leave the premises, Mrs Higgs, shaking and tearful, collected her things and left the school grounds.
An investigation into her conduct was launched, which involved Mrs Higgs being questioned on why she had used her school email to receive ‘inspirational’ quotations from the Bible.
The investigation culminated just days before Christmas when Mrs Higgs was asked to attend a disciplinary hearing at a hotel.
‘Pro-Nazi right-wing extremist’
For six hours until 8pm, Mrs Higgs was subjected to intimidating questioning by the panel of three governors, supported by three other members of staff. Her posts were compared to ‘pro-Nazi’ views, and she was accused of intolerance.
When she tried to explain the context of her Christian beliefs she was told: “keep your religion out of it.” Mrs Higgs argued that her aim had been merely to raise awareness among parents of the Government’s education plans and the transgender books being taught in primary schools.
The academy concluded, however, that Mrs Higgs would be dismissed for: ‘illegal discrimination’, ‘serious inappropriate use of social media’, and ‘online comments that could bring the school into disrepute and damage the reputation of the school.’
However, this week’s judgment of the Tribunal concluded: “we did not believe that any inappropriate comments were made” by the School’s disciplinary panel.
“Worthy of respect”
Mrs Higgs is the third case where Employment Tribunals have considered a claim for discrimination on the grounds of religious or philosophical beliefs opposed to transgenderism.
In another recent case supported by Christian Legal Centre, Dr David Mackereth lost his job as a disability assessor for the Department of Work and Pensions after saying that his Christian beliefs do not permit him to refer to patients by their chosen ‘transgender’ pronouns.
Last year, the Employment Tribunal in Birmingham concluded that “a lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others” and therefore “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
A researcher, Maya Forstater, also lost her job in a think tank after tweeting that transgender women cannot change their biological sex. Her claim for discrimination on the grounds of philosophical beliefs has been dismissed on the grounds that her beliefs are “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
The decisions in both cases are currently under appeal.
Cases of Mackereth and Forstater cited
At the trial of Mrs Higgs’s claim on 21-25 September, the School’s lawyers cited the cases of Dr David Mackereth and Ms Maya Forstater, and argued that Mrs Higgs’s similar beliefs about transgenderism should be rejected on the same grounds.
However, the Tribunal has rejected that argument, and criticised the conclusions reached in the cases of Dr Mackereth and Ms Forstater.
The judgement reads: “The belief that sex and gender are “set at birth” may be upsetting to certain people but if freedom of speech and [freedom of thought, conscience and religion] only extended to expressions of belief that could upset no-one they would be worthless.” The Tribunal held that the conclusions reached in the cases of Dr Mackereth and Ms Forstater “would amount to a declaration that it is “open season” on people that hold and express the beliefs in question – that they do not deserve protection. That seemed to us to be a strange and somewhat disturbing conclusion.”
These judicial comments will reinforce the ongoing appeals in both those cases.
‘I will fight for justice’
Responding to the outcome, Mrs Higgs said: “I am disappointed to read the tribunal’s ruling, but plan to appeal and continue to fight for justice. I strongly maintain that I lost my job because of my Christian beliefs, beliefs which our society does not appear to tolerate or even understand anymore.
“Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that I lost the job I loved because of my Christian beliefs. It’s hard to believe that the school would take one anonymous complaint and escalate it to all this.
“Where was the school’s tolerance and kindness to me? Where was the school’s attempt to understand my point of view?
“I shared these posts as a mother who was deeply concerned about the compulsory sex education being forced on my 9-year-old son at a Church of England primary school. These views were compared to that of a ‘pro-Nazi right wing extremist’, which is highly offensive to me and millions of Christians across the world.
“I have to continue to fight for justice so that no one else has to go through what I have. I want parents to have the freedom to bring their children up in line with their Christian beliefs, I want young children to be protected from this harmful ideology. Christians must also to be able to share their opinions and beliefs without fear of losing their jobs.”
‘Blow for Christian freedom’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “This judgment should concern all of us who care about the freedom to be a Christian believer in the UK.
“Kristie has supposedly been dismissed, not for the posts she made, but for a deliberately distorted and unkind interpretation of the content that she linked to.
“Even though her post was private to her family and friends she is being held responsible for what others might do with it. Even though no one actually thinks or claimed that Kristie holds hateful views, she is being fired because one anonymous ‘friend’ said they were and because others might think the same.
“It is clear no actual harm has come to the school’s reputation as a result of her posts, but that she has been sacked as if it had. The posts were not even in relation to the secondary school but about the books being read in her son’s primary school.
“This hearing has exposed this clear injustice and we will support Kristie for as long as it takes to turn this around.”