Mother sacked for sharing petition against compulsory sex education wins permission to appeal15 July 2021 Issued by: Christian Concern
A Christian pastoral administrator sacked for two Facebook posts that raised concerns about transgenderism and sex education at her son’s Church of England primary school has won the right to appeal her case.
In September 2020, Kristie Higgs, 45, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, had challenged her employer, Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, for discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her Christian beliefs.
Having worked for 7 years as a pastoral assistant at Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, Mrs Higgs was summarily dismissed in early 2020 after sharing a petition against the extension of relationship and sex education on her private Facebook case.
After an anonymous complaint attacked Mrs Higgs’s views as “homophobic and prejudiced”, the School promptly dismissed her for bringing the school into disrepute. Last October, Bristol Employment Tribunal rejected Mrs Higgs’s claim for religious discrimination.
However, His Honour Judge Tayler, sitting in the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London this week, has called that decision into question, as he granted Mrs Higgs permission to appeal. HHJ Tayler said: “This appeal potentially raises important issues on the approach to be adopted by the Tribunals to manifestation and expression of beliefs”.
The Judge directed that the appeal be listed in ‘Category A’, which means the case is complex and raises points of law of public importance, and will be heard by a full three-member panel.
Barrister Richard O’Dair, representing Mrs Higgs, argued: “It is not transphobic to have doubts about gender reassignment for children”. In his submissions, Mr O’Dair described Bristol Employment Tribunal’s conclusions as “perverse” and “not a view to which one can come if one has a proper understanding of free speech”.
HHJ Tayler is best known for his earlier decision in the case of Maya Forstater, where he held that her sceptical view of transgenderism was not “worthy or respect in a democratic society” or protected by anti-discrimination law. That judgment has been recently overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
Responding to the ruling, Mrs Higgs said: “I am delighted that the judge has granted us permission to appeal. 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.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “The story of Kristie Higgs should concern all of us who care about the freedom to be a Christian believer in the UK. We are pleased the judge has granted permission to appeal this crucial case.”
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.
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 head teacher of the school where Mrs Higgs worked, 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.’
‘You had not discriminated against anyone’
Yet the academy admitted in writing that: “Regarding bringing the school into disrepute…we agree that there is no direct evidence that as a matter of fact that the reputation of the school has been damaged to date.”
Despite one of the posts Mrs Higgs shared mentioning that ‘freedom of belief would be destroyed’, the academy asserted that: “We concluded that no action was taken because of your religion. The disciplinary occurred for reasons other than your religion.”
The academy stated: “As an inclusive employer, Farmor’s school recognises and protects the statutory rights of its staff. Such rights however are not absolute and we are concerned that you did not demonstrate an appropriate understanding of the school’s requirement to respect and tolerate the views of others and to role model such behaviour.”
When Mrs Higgs asked who she had discriminated against, she was told: “you had not directly discriminated against one person, rather it was about the words you had used that could be perceived as discrimination.”
In January 2019 she was sacked for gross misconduct without notice, her appeal was rejected and she was left with the prospect of never being able to work with children again.
Lawyers representing Mrs Higgs have argued that her sacking breached her freedom of speech and freedom of religion, citing the legal precedent set at the High Court in 2019 in the case of Felix Ngole.