Christian student granted judicial review after being expelled for views on sexuality

26 April 2017

A Christian student has won the right to challenge his expulsion from University over his views on marriage and sexuality.

Felix Ngole was expelled from a social work course at the University of Sheffield after he expressed the Christian view of marriage and sexuality on his Facebook page.

Mr Ngole, a second year Master’s student, sought permission yesterday for the High Court to judicially review the University’s decision after it rejected his internal appeal.

The University said that his comments breached the code of professional conduct outlined in the Health and Care Professions Councils (HCPC).

But yesterday the High Court granted permission for a judicial review of the decision.

Targeted over Facebook comments

Mr Ngole made the comments in question in September 2015 on his personal Facebook page, in connection with the case of US marriage clerk Kim Davis.

Ms Davis, from Kentucky, had expressed a conscientious objection to issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples.

Ms Davis was sent to prison, which became an issue of considerable public interest and debate.

Mr Ngole expressed support for Kim Davies’ 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 the following week.

After 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.

‘Perception of discrimination’

Yesterday, Counsel for the University of Sheffield, Sarah Hannett of Matrix Chambers, told the Court that the University’s policy “is not just that the services must be provided without discrimination, but without perception of discrimination, and that required the removal of Mr. Ngole from the course”.

Ms Hannett said that using Facebook to express beliefs on marriage and sexuality was not “intimately connected” with the Christian faith.

She conceded that Felix Ngole had not actually discriminated against anyone.

But she claimed that by exercising his freedom of expression he was making himself unfit to be a social worker.

Ms Hannett argued that the University of Sheffield did not punish Mr. Ngole for his views on same-sex unions, but rather for “the place and the manner” of expressing it on Facebook.

Felix Ngole’s Counsel Paul Diamond, Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre, said that the University’s position “is a proxy for saying we don’t like those views.”

He argued: “The duty of the courts is to control those bodies [universities], to ensure that freedom continues, and that due process of law is followed. Free speech in this country is getting narrower and narrower.”

‘This case has wide reaching ramifications’

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“We are pleased that the Judge has granted permission to judicially review the University’s decision. This case has wide-reaching ramifications for the freedom of Christians, and we will continue to fight with Felix to ensure that these freedoms are upheld.

“The suggestion that services must be provided without ‘the perception of discrimination’ is deeply concerning, and the low threshold represents a potential regression for Christian freedoms. The manifestation of Christian views is bound up with the freedom to hold the belief, and it is wrong to suggest that Biblical beliefs should effectively be privatised to protect the feelings of others”.

Find out more about Felix Ngole
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