Christian student takes university to court for expulsion from social work course over views on sexuality24 April 2017 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
A Christian student who was removed from a social work course after expressing his views on marriage and sexual ethics is challenging his university’s decision to dismiss him.
In a rare legal challenge, Felix Ngole will tomorrow (Tuesday 25 April) ask the High Court to grant a judicial review of the university’s decision.
Mr Ngole was removed from a social work course at the University of Sheffield after he made comments on his personal Facebook page in support of biblical teaching on marriage and sexual ethics.
An internal complaints body found that the University had acted fairly when it dismissed Mr Ngole.
He is seeking a judicial review so that the dismissal, which barred him from becoming a social worker, will be properly scrutinised by the High Court in light of human rights law including the freedom to manifest one’s faith.
Mr Ngole’s original application to the High Court failed, but he has another opportunity at the hearing tomorrow (Tuesday 25 April), to ask the High Court to change its mind.
‘In support of marriage’
Mr Ngole made the comments in September 2015 on his personal Facebook page, in connection with the case of Kim Davis, the marriage county clerk from the US state of Kentucky who expressed a conscientious objection to issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples.
Mr Ngole expressed support for Kim Davis’s freedom and in the course of the discussion explained biblical teaching on sexual ethics.
Nearly two months later, he received an email from a University official telling him that his comments were being investigated and summoning him to a meeting.
Following further meetings, he was told that the Faculty of Social Sciences Fitness to Practise Committee had ruled that he should be removed from the course.
‘No longer recognised as a University student’
Following a ‘Fitness to Practise Committee’ hearing at the University of Sheffield, he was told that he has been “excluded from further study on a programme leading to a professional qualification” and was “no longer recognised as a University student.”
Mr Ngole was told that, by posting his comments on Facebook, the Committee believed that he “may have caused offence to some individuals” and had “transgressed boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the Social Work profession.” His action would have an effect on his “ability to carry out a role as a Social Worker,” the Committee said.
‘Bar to office’
Mr Ngole says that the University’s decision to exclude him effectively creates a “bar to office for Christians”, and amounts to “secret policing of Christian belief.”
He says that he is “determined to challenge the decision because of its wider consequences and the huge issues of freedom of religion and freedom of expression that it raises.”
“My beliefs about marriage and sexual ethics reflect mainstream, biblical understanding, shared by millions around the world. Simply expressing that understanding, in a personal capacity, on my Facebook page, cannot be allowed to become a bar to serving and helping others in a professional capacity as a social worker,” he adds.
‘Theresa May fails to understand what some Christians are really going through’
Mr Ngole continued: “The Prime Minister’s comments at Easter fail to appreciate what Christians like me have gone through. I have lost my education and my career simply for doing what Theresa May says we should have the freedom to do – to speak about our faith.
“The way that I have been treated raises very serious issues about the way students in English universities are being censored in their views and beliefs.
“If the personal statements of students on their own social media pages, and amongst their own ‘friends’ are now to be used to judge whether they are ‘fit and proper people’ to serve in professions such as law, medicine, teaching and social work, then very serious questions need to be asked about the freedoms in the UK and this is why I am taking my case to the High Court.
“If each university is making its own, arbitrary decisions, who is monitoring these decisions and how can students ensure that, across all universities, there is good, fair and equal assessment of such issues?
“However, there is a far more serious issue at stake. Further education is a time when all students should be helped to explore their beliefs, through interaction and debate. If they are ‘censored’ from even sharing their ideas or beliefs as part of a discussion on Facebook then how can that happen? Even the Soviet Union did not restrict students like this!
“The University claims my views are discriminatory but I am the one being discriminated against because of my expression of Christian beliefs. I wonder whether the university would have taken any action if a Muslim student who believes in sharia law, with its teaching about women and homosexuality, had made moderate comments on his Facebook page. I don’t think so.”
‘Christians silenced in the public arena’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Ngole, said:
“The University’s treatment of Felix fundamentally violates its responsibilities under human rights legislation. The University has failed to protect his freedom of speech under Article 10 and his freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Students are entitled to discuss and debate their own personal views on their own Facebook page.
“Felix has worked with people who identify as homosexual, treating them with respect and kindness. What he shared on his Facebook page simply reflects biblical teaching on sexual behaviour.
“Unless he wins this case he will be forever barred from social work. Felix is entitled to express his views, especially ones shared by millions of people around the world.
“There is no evidence that Felix’s views adversely impacted his work. Quite the contrary, he was a hard-working student who would be an asset to the profession.
“Sadly, this is yet another case of Christians being punished in the public arena, and of censorship of views. We will help Felix fight this through the Courts.”