Felix Ngole, a devout Christian from Barnsley, Yorkshire, was forced to leave his two-year social work course at Sheffield University
The human right to free speech could be at risk if a ruling against a devout Christian kicked off his university course for ‘anti-gay’ comments is not overturned, the former student will argue in the High Court next week.
Felix Ngole, a devout Christian from Barnsley, Yorkshire, was forced to leave his two-year social work masters at Sheffield University after he posted ‘homosexuality is a sin’ to Facebook.
The 40-year-old argued he had been unfairly punished for sharing his Christian believes and his removal from the course breached his human right to freedom of speech and thought, enshrined in the Europeans Convention on Human Rights.
He will appear at the Appeal Court on Tuesday, more than a year after Deputy High Court judge Rowena Collins-Rice found Mr Ngole’s rights to free speech had not been infringed by his removal from the course during a trial in London in October 2017.
During a request for appeal Paul Diamond, a barrister specialising in religious and human rights, will suggest that regulators would, by implication, have to be given the powers of the Orwellian thought police to monitor social media accounts.
He is expected to argue that it would leave a fifth of the workforce vulnerable to the charge that they had breached their professional code of conduct if they expressed unpopular beliefs. There are more than 200 regulated professions in the UK.
Mr Ngole posted ‘homosexuality is a sin’ and ‘the devil has hijacked the constitution of the USA’ on Facebook after Kim Davis, a county clerk from Kentucky, was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences after the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2016.
Mr Ngole quoted a verse from Leviticus describing it as an ‘abomination’.
The university’s lawyers said they had to consider the mature student’s ‘fitness to practise’ and warned that his posts would damage public confidence in social workers.
His barrister Mr Diamond plans to argue that the university should not have assumed that Ngole was wrong to express his beliefs. If he was entitled to express his religious views then he showed integrity by refusing to renounce them.
Outside court during the trial that found Mr Ngole’s human right to freedom of speech had not been infringed in 2017
The court will hear that Mr Ngole’s comments on Facebook are shared by millions of Christians that simply quote or paraphrase the Bible and are beliefs protected by human rights laws.
Mr Ngole’s lawyer will cite a notorious case involving Ken Livingstone who, when he was mayor of London, compared a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The High Court ruled in 2006 that he had not breached the mayoral code of conduct, in part because there is a distinction between him bringing himself into disrepute and bringing his office into disrepute.
He is set to argue that a student should not be held to a higher standard than London’s mayor. Mr Ngole was commenting in 2015 on a debate about a US official who was jailed after refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples.
The university have previously argued Mr Ngole was unfit to practise after he failed to show ‘insight’ into the consequences of his actions and the Health and Care Professions Council intervened.
The former student has previously told the university that, regardless of his beliefs, he does not discriminate against gay people. His appeal argues that victims are protected in law and so limits on freedom of expression cannot be justified on the grounds of a hypothetical risk.
It is understood that his barrister will point out that the university has itself acted on the assumption that people can set aside their personal beliefs.
Mr Ngole, who is married with four children, has been unable to return to his career as a teacher and said he has had job offers withdrawn after revealing his legal battle with Sheffield.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is backing the student, said: ‘Free speech is not meaningfully free if it only applies to views that everyone finds acceptable.’
In 2017 Ms Williams, commenting on the ruling against Mr Ngole, said it would have a ‘chilling’ effect on Christians’ ability to share their views.
She said: ‘The court has ruled that though Mr Ngole is entitled to hold his Biblical views on sexual ethics, he is not entitled to express them.
‘It is the expression of Biblical morality that has been singled out for sanction by the university.
‘This ruling will have a chilling effect on Christian students up and down the country who will now understand that their personal social media posts may be investigated for political correctness.’
Mr Ngole enrolled on a two-year MA social work degree course in September 2014 at Sheffield University – one of 24 elite Russell Group universities.
University bosses said he had posted comments on a publicly accessible Facebook page which were ‘derogatory of gay men and bisexuals’.
Following a disciplinary hearing, the student was told he had brought his profession ‘into disrepute’ and breached ‘personal conduct’ guidelines. A separate ‘fitness to practise’ panel later concluded that he was entitled to his opinion about gay marriage but may have ‘caused offence to some individuals’.
At the time of his expulsion Mr Ngole said: ‘My beliefs about marriage and sexual ethics reflect mainstream, biblical understanding, shared by millions around the world.
‘Simply expressing that understanding, in a personal capacity, on my Facebook page, cannot be allowed to become a bar to serving and helping others in a professional capacity as a social worker.’
A growing culture of intolerance at universities meant some student unions adopted ‘safe space’ policies that banned controversial speakers who were deemed offensive.
Historian David Starkey was removed from a promotional Cambridge University video over claims his views were ‘racist’.
Facebook’s Community Standards states it does not allow content that directly attacks individuals based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.
But it does allow people to discuss and criticise broad religions, institutions, ideas and beliefs as part of a balance between giving people the freedom to express themselves and maintaining a safe and trusted environment.
Sheffield University has been approached for comment.