The Court of Appeal has today ruled that it was lawful for a Christian non-executive NHS director and magistrate to be sacked for expressing in the media that children do best when raised by a mother and a father.
Mr Richard Page, 74, from Kent, was suspended from the magistracy and forced out of a role at an NHS Trust, after explaining on television that he had been discriminated against for his Christian beliefs on parenting while presiding over an adoption case.
After a six-year legal battle seeking justice against the decisions to remove him, today’s judgment has instead taken a significant step in developing further limitations on freedom of speech for Christians in the workplace.
Mr Page now intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
‘Views might cause offence’
In his judgment on Mr Page’s claim against NHS Improvement, Lord Justice Underhill stated that:
“The extent to which it is legitimate to expect a person holding a senior role in a public body to refrain from expressing views which may upset a section of the public is a delicate question.”
He recognised that Mr Page “had a particular interest in expressing publicly his views about same-sex adoption in the context of his removal as a magistrate, which was a legitimate matter of public debate” and that he expressed his views ‘temperately’ in the media.
However, he judged that Mr Page’s views on same sex-marriage and ‘homosexual activity’, might cause ‘offence’.
Media appearance ‘justified sacking’
The ruling suggested, for example, that Mr Page should have “declined to answer” Piers Morgan’s questions on his beliefs during an interview on Good Morning Britain in 2016.
Mr Morgan’s treatment of Mr Page during the interview led to 70 complaints to Ofcom.
However, it was ruled that Mr Page’s responses to Piers Morgan’s questions justified his removal from his financial role in the NHS, as they might inadvertently “deter mentally ill gay people in the Trust’s catchment area from engaging with its services.”
Lawyers representing Mr Page had argued at the hearing in November 2020 that upholding his removal on these grounds would force Christians holding traditional views about sexual morality into silence, making it almost impossible for them to hold any kind of public office.
Concluding his judgment however, Lord Justice Underhill stated that, “the issue raised by this case is not about what beliefs such a person holds but about the limits on their public expression.”
He added that:
“the freedom to express religious or any other beliefs cannot be unlimited. In particular, so far as the present case is concerned, there are circumstances in which it is right to expect Christians (and others) who work for an institution, especially if they hold a high-profile position, to accept some limitations on how they express in public their beliefs on matters of particular sensitivity.”
‘Artificial way to exclude Christian beliefs’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “This is the first time the Court of Appeal has endorsed the perverse distinction between unlawful discrimination for Christian beliefs and lawfully dismissing someone for offending an LGBT audience by expressing those beliefs.
“This is simply an artificial way to exclude Christian beliefs from the protection of the law. Nobody would get away with applying a similar distinction to any other protected characteristic. You would not get away with dismissing a homosexual for coming out as a homosexual, and then saying: “we duly respect your sexual orientation as long as you keep it to yourself”. This is an unfair and chilling decision, and the Supreme Court should put it right.
“The judgment sends a direct message to Christian public servants that if they allow their beliefs to influence their decision-making while in public office, they must self-censor and be silent, and are ultimately unfit for that office. If they express their beliefs in private to colleagues, they will be reprimanded, and if they then state those beliefs to the media, they will be sacked and will have their lives torn apart.
“The idea that you can remove a director from the NHS based on a perception that members of the LGBT community may be offended by something he said in the media, is extraordinary and should concern us all.
“This ruling provides a green light for employers to punish Christian employees who do not fall in line with and unquestionably support LGBT ideology. We will continue to stand with Richard Page as he seeks justice. We will not stop until this wrong is put right.”
Responding to the outcome, Mr Page said: “This is another deeply concerning ruling from the courts against Christian freedoms, and I intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.”
Find out more about Richard Page