Christian teaching assistant Kristie Higgs has won her appeal, overturning a previous ruling that upheld her dismissal.
Kristie was sacked for sharing two Facebook posts that raised concerns about how transgenderism and compulsory sex education was to be taught at her son’s Church of England (CofE) primary school.
Handing down judgment today, the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Dame Jennifer Eady allowed Mrs Higgs’s appeal against the decision of Bristol Employment Tribunal, and held: “The freedom to manifest belief (religious or otherwise) and to express views relating to that belief are essential rights in any democracy, whether or not the belief in question is popular or mainstream and even if its expression may offend.”
Mrs Justice Eady criticised the judges in Bristol for failing to assess, as they were required by law, whether the investigation and dismissal of Mrs Higgs “were prescribed by law and were necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, recognising the essential nature of [Mrs Higgs’s] rights to freedom of belief and freedom of expression”.
The ruling sets a legal precedent which confirms that the Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination not only for their beliefs, but also for expression or manifestation of their beliefs. It confirms that any limitation of freedom to manifest religion at workplace must be prescribed by law and go no further than is necessary in a democratic society for the protection of rights, freedoms and reputation of others.
This precedent is expected to protect Christians who are disciplined or dismissed by their employers for manifesting their faith by sharing their beliefs in conversations or on social media, as well as by praying and wearing crosses, for example.
Concluding her judgment and sending the case back for a re-hearing, which further delays full justice for Mrs Higgs, Judge Eady said ‘I apologise to the parties for the delays.’
‘Pro-Nazi right-wing extremist’
Kristie Higgs has been supported by the Christian Legal Centre since 2019, when, after a six-hour interrogation, she was told by her bosses at Fairford school, Gloucestershire, that her Christian beliefs, expressed in the posts, were akin to that of a ‘pro-Nazi right-wing extremist.’
Mrs Higgs had made the posts after discovering that the CofE school attended by her child planned, under the radar, to introduce ‘No Outsiders’ books on confusing and harmful gender identity. The books included ‘My princess boy’ and Red: A crayon’s story.
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 in her son’s school.
Mrs Higgs has said that her aim had been to raise awareness among parents of the Government’s education plans and the transgender books being taught in primary schools.
One anonymous complaint to the headteacher of Farmor’s School, Matthew Evans, however, was enough to see her sacked for gross misconduct, which included allegations of ‘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.’
The decision was made despite the posts being made under her maiden name on a profile which had no links to her employer.
No evidence has ever been found that her posts brought the school into disrepute.
In response, Mrs Higgs launched legal action for discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her Christian beliefs.
In a judgment released today (16 June), Mrs Justice Eady overturned a previous ruling in October 2020 which had upheld the sacking.
Mrs Justice Eady has ruled that Bristol Employment Tribunal “failed to engage with the question identified in Eweida and ors v United Kingdom (2013) 57 EHRR 8; had it done so, it would have concluded that there was a close or direct nexus between the claimant’s Facebook posts and her protected beliefs.”
She remitted the case back to the Employment Tribunal to be reconsidered in the light of her ruling on issues of law.
Setting out a “guidance” for reconsideration of this case as well as for similar cases in the future, Mrs Justice Eady says: “First, the foundational nature of the rights must be recognised: “the freedom to manifest belief (religious or otherwise) and to express views relating to that belief are essential rights in any democracy, whether or not the belief in question is popular or mainstream and even if its expression may offend.”
Today’s ruling comes following the government announcing that it will undertake an urgent review of ‘inappropriate’ sex education in UK schools.
Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is said to be personally alarmed about Government guidance that was endorsed by LGBT charity Stonewall and produced in 2019, the year of Mrs Higgs’ sacking.
The double recusal
Mrs Higgs’ pursuit of justice has faced a series of unusual and, at times, unprecedented obstacles.
In July 2022, Mrs Higgs’ appeal was postponed after Mrs Justice Eady was forced to recuse trans activist, Edward Lord, from sitting as a lay magistrate on the presiding panel.
It transpired that Lord, associated with Mermaids and Stonewall, had made a series of public statements relating to key issues in Mrs Higgs’ case, including the extent to which individuals should be restricted from making comments or statements regarding LGBT ideology, especially transgenderism.
In January 2023, it was revealed in the media that senior members of the Church of England and the judiciary had met at an undisclosed date to discuss Mrs Higgs’ case. The motivations, reasoning and details for such a high-level meeting are not known.
Lightning struck twice in March 2023, when in the lead up to the rescheduled appeal hearing following Edward Lord’s recusal, it was discovered that Andrew Morris, the former Assistant General Secretary of National Education Union (NEU), would be presiding as a lay magistrate.
Under Mr Morris’ watch, during the time frame that the government is set to urgently review its ‘inappropriate’ sex education guidance, the NEU consistently took a strong position in favour of making both relationship and sex education mandatory in primary schools.
The NEU at this time was also a national leader in encouraging teaching children at primary schools about same-sex relationships and transgenderism.
Following both recusals, Mrs Justice Eady was forced to proceed ‘judge alone’.
‘Pleased but frustrated by further delays’
Responding to today’s ruling, Kristie said:
“I am pleased that the courts have overturned the previous judgment, but I am frustrated by the further delays to receiving justice.
“From the beginning, despite the many attempts by the school to suggest otherwise, this has always been about my Christian beliefs and me being discriminated against for expressing them in my own time.
“I was, and still am, appalled by the sexual ideology that was being introduced to my son’s Church of England primary school.
“I will never forget the moment, shaking and tearful, that I was ordered to leave the school premises after my Christian beliefs were aligned with Nazism.
“Since I lost the job I loved, there has been so many disturbing revelations about transgender ideology in schools and children being taught inappropriate sex education. I feel so justified and vindicated for sharing and expressing the concerns that I did.
“Christian parents must have the freedom to bring their children up in line with their Christian beliefs. I want young children to be protected from transgender ideology and 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: “This is a win for Kristie, but Mrs Justice Eady should have had the courage to exonerate her. Instead, she is suggesting a rehearing before the same Tribunal that heard the case in the first place.
“We press on in this important case. We are pleased that the force of the facts in this case meant the judge had to do the right thing. I believe this for all our cases and here the judge couldn’t go anywhere else.
“Kristie was punished in 2019 as a result of the climate of fear and intolerance created in our education system by Stonewall and other LGBT activist groups, and appropriated. Only now is the government beginning to wake up and be ‘alarmed’ by the extreme teaching young children have been exposed to on their watch.
“Kristie Higgs was alarmed by the teaching content she found in her son’s Church of England primary school in 2019 and that Church of England schools generally were promoting LGBT ideologies. She was deeply concerned that confusing and harmful LGBT teaching and books were being introduced without parents being properly informed and consulted.
“The previous judgment that upheld her sacking could not stand. In what should have been a cut and dry case of discrimination, however, it has been unnerving to encounter the series of obstacles blocking Kristie securing justice.
“The double recusals in this case are no coincidence and reveal the shadowy forces at play that are determined to prevent a good and sincere Christian mother from receiving justice.
“No Outsiders books that promote extreme gender identity ideology, harm and confusion have no place in a Church of England or indeed any school in the UK.”
Find out more about Kristie Higgs