A healthcare provider withdrew a job offer to a social worker after it discovered that he held Christian beliefs on marriage and human sexuality.
Felix Ngole was told by Touchstone Support Leeds that unless he could demonstrate how he would ‘embrace and promote homosexual rights’ at the organisation, the job offer would be withdrawn.
The role would have involved working at Wakefield Hospital to manage the discharge of patients with mental health conditions into the community. But after Touchstone’s chief executive, Kathryn Hart, discovered online articles about Felix’s previous legal case, the offer was withdrawn.
In 2019, Felix won a landmark free speech case at the Court of Appeal challenging his university’s decision to expel him for Facebook comments upholding marriage and Christian sexual ethics. The court ruled that “the mere expression of religious views about sin does not necessarily connote discrimination” and Felix subsequently completed his course.
Felix is now challenging the withdrawal of the job offer at the Leeds Employment Tribunal with the help of the Christian Legal Centre.
My ‘dream job’
Felix applied for what he described as his ‘dream job’ as Mental Health Support Worker, which Touchstone had been recruiting for on behalf of the NHS. He has experience supporting individuals with mental health issues from all walks of life, in hospital and homecare settings, and has the professional qualifications to do so.
Felix was offered the job as the best performing candidate in interview, gaining the highest marks of any candidate on an equality and diversity assessment.
After providing references, however, Touchstone’s chief executive, Kathryn Hart, discovered articles, including a piece by the BBC which revealed that Mr Ngole had won a landmark legal case in 2019.
There was nothing in the job description or job advert, which Mr Ngole was originally emailed by Indeed.co.uk, which presented such a prerequisite to work for the organisation that supports 10,000 people across Yorkshire each year.
Court of Appeal ruling
In 2015, the University of Sheffield had removed Mr Ngole from studying for a social work degree after an anonymous complaint was made about how he expressed his biblical belief that marriage is between a man and woman and that homosexual practice is sinful during a debate on Facebook.
In the legal battle that followed, the Court of Appeal ruling found that Mr Ngole had not, and was unlikely to, discriminate against anyone because of his beliefs and that the university had unlawfully removed him from the course.
During the case, university lawyers went as far as to suggest that even Mother Theresa would be barred from working in the social work profession if she expressed the same Christian beliefs as Mr Ngole.
The ruling represented a major development of the law which should have resulted in Christians having the legal right to express Biblical views on social media or elsewhere without fear for their professional careers.
The judgment said:
‘The University wrongly confused the expression of religious views with the notion of discrimination. The mere expression of views on theological grounds (e.g. that ‘homosexuality is a sin’) does not necessarily connote that the person expressing such views [the Claimant] will discriminate on such grounds. In the present case, there was positive evidence to suggest that [Mr Ngole] had never discriminated on such grounds in the past and was not likely to do so in the future (because, as he explained, the Bible prohibited him from discriminating against anybody).’
In the BBC piece discovered by Touchstone, Mr Ngole was quoted in response to the ruling saying: “As Christians we are called to serve others and to care for everyone, yet publicly and privately we must also be free to express our beliefs and what the bible says without fear of losing our livelihoods.”
Following the ruling, Mr Ngole, who sought asylum in this country in 2003 after fleeing violent persecution in Cameroon, returned to the University of Sheffield to complete his social work degree and has since gained employment in the field.
‘Must actively promote LGBTQ+ rights’
Despite this, Mr Ngole was told by Touchstone’s chief executive that the reasons for withdrawing the employment offer was that he was now unsuitable for the position as they had: ‘unfortunately identified some significant areas for concern regarding your suitability for both the role and Touchstone as an organisation. In particular we have uncovered some information about [Mr Ngole] that does not align with Touchstone Leeds’ ethos and values; we are an organisation proud to work with the LGBTQ+ community and we pride ourselves for being an inclusive employer.’
Asking what had been found, Mr Ngole was told that articles had been found on Google. “In particular, we can see that you have very strong views against homosexuality and same sex marriage, which completely go against the views of Touchstone, an organisation committed to actively promoting and supporting LGBTQ+ rights.”
The email went on to say that: “In particular, we have serious concerns that your [Mr Ngole’s] ability to act in the best interests of Touchstone, its service users and its staff would be compromised by your strong views.”
Ms Hart’s email concluded by saying that Touchstone may reconsider its decision if Mr Ngole was “able to give us assurances that [his] role would not be compromised by [his] views.“
As part of these assurances, Mr Ngole was required to ‘embrace and promote’ Touchstone’s values, “including the promotion of homosexual rights”. If he would not give these assurances, the email made clear the decision to withdraw the offer would stand.
Mr Ngole gave personal assurances that he would not discriminate against anyone whilst making clear his stance on his Christian beliefs by saying: “What I cannot do, and you cannot reasonably expect me to do without yourselves being discriminatory, is make my participation in the ‘promotion of homosexual rights’ a condition of my employment”.
Invited into another meeting, Mr Ngole said compared to the warm welcome he received at his first interview, the atmosphere was hostile. In the two-hour interrogation that followed, he was cross examined at length about his beliefs, ultimately resulting in the decision to withdraw the offer of employment being sustained.
The minutes from the meeting detailed that Mr Ngole said he had “never been accused of discrimination” and did not “have any intention to discriminate against anyone’. However, without further explanation, the panel concluded that ‘this rather misses the point’.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Ngole has now taken legal action, with a hearing set to take place from Monday 10-14 July at Leeds Employment Tribunal.
Mr Ngole will make claims under the Equality Act for direct discrimination, harassment, indirect discrimination, and compensation for injury to feelings.
He will also be seeking a recommendation that Touchstone amend its recruitment procedures to align with its stated objective of being an ‘inclusive employer’ so as not to preclude practising Christians from its workforce.
‘I had to pledge allegiance to LGBT or be unemployable’
Ahead of the hearing, Mr Ngole, said: “I was told I was the best candidate for the job, then they suddenly said I was unemployable because they discovered that I am a Christian.
“No one has ever told me that I have not treated them well in my professional experience. I have never been accused of forcing my beliefs on anyone. I have supported vulnerable individuals from all backgrounds, including LGBT.
“I was delighted to be invited to the interview so that I could showcase my skills. I saw it as a step closer to my dream job. It was a brilliant interview; I was greeted warmly, and they were really kind to me.
“I was offered the job and they were already talking to me about my first day and who my line manager would be. When I received the email telling me that the job had been withdrawn it was a shock. I was very confused and distraught, and I wanted to know why.
“The reasons they gave for withdrawing the job offer were an attack on me and my faith.
“They made it seem that 100% of the people I would be helping would be LGBT, and that I had to pledge allegiance to the LGBT flag and forget about my Christian beliefs.
“It is untenable for employers to be allowed to discriminate against Christian beliefs in this way and to force individuals to promote an ideology that goes against their conscience in the workplace.
“There was no mutual respect, and no tolerance and inclusion of me and my beliefs whatsoever.
“If we get to the point where if you don’t celebrate and support LGBT you can’t have a job, then every Christian out there doesn’t have a future. You can study as much as you like, but you will not have a chance.
“The UK is no longer the country I heard about all those years ago when fleeing Cameroon. The UK then was a bastion of free speech and expression.
“I have no choice but to pursue justice again because if this is happening to me it will be happening to Christians and individuals from all beliefs and backgrounds across the country.
“I was once an asylum seeker; I had no job, no home, but those in my community treated me with great kindness. I have to show that kindness, not just because I’m a Christian, but also because that is what I received.
“I cannot deny my faith to get a job. One day I will leave this world and I won’t leave with anything other than my faith. I will be happy to be a cleaner, if need be, as long as I keep my faith and am right before God.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Telling an employee that they must ‘embrace and promote’ homosexuality as a condition of employment sets a dark and troubling precedent. If left unchallenged it would see Christians who manifest their beliefs barred from working in the NHS and other institutions.
“Felix loves Jesus and the bible’s teaching, and you could not ask for a more compassionate mental health worker to support the most vulnerable in our communities.
“The NHS and its providers need more social workers like Felix Ngole, not fewer.
“What we see here is the confident totalitarianism of an organisation that has been captured by Stonewall and will do anything to keep their Stonewall ranking as high as possible.
“Viewpoint discrimination is escalating in the UK at an alarming rate. We have seen in the recent cases of high street banks denying Christians and free speech advocates the right to a bank account how far organisations captured by Stonewall are prepared to go. Anyone who does not comply and celebrate LGBT ideology must become a ‘non-person.’
“The Court of Appeal judgment in Felix’s case against the University of Sheffield was a major development of the law and must be upheld and respected in current and future Christian freedom cases.”
Find out more about Felix Ngole