Teacher thrown off university social work course to take case to High Court
A religious education teacher who says he was wrongly thrown off a university social work course after suggesting that same-sex marriage was a sin during an online discussion has won the latest round of a legal fight.
Felix Ngole, 39, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, said he had been lawfully expressing a traditional Christian view and complained that bosses at Sheffield University unfairly stopped him completing a postgraduate degree in social work.
He has now been given the go-ahead to argue his case in the High Court.
A judge on Tuesday gave Mr Ngole permission to mount a judicial review of the university’s decision following a preliminary High Court hearing in London.
Deputy High Court Judge James Lewis said it could be argued that the decision was disproportionate.
Lawyers said a judge would probably decide whether the decision should be overturned after a trial in the autumn.
Sheffield University bosses had argued that Mr Ngole’s judicial review claim should be blocked.
Lawyers for the university said the decision to remove him from the course had been fair and proportionate.
They said Mr Ngole was taking a “professionally qualifying degree” with the aim of becoming a social worker and argued that what he had said would affect gay people he might work with.
Mr Ngole, who works as a supply teacher and comes from Cameroon, said afterwards that the case had implications for others.
“I am excited,” he said. “This is not just about me.”
Mr Ngole, who said he sometimes preached at St George’s Church in Barnsley, said he hoped to be able to complete the masters degree social work course if he overturned the decision.
He is being backed by the Christian Legal Centre – which is part of the campaign group Christian Concern.
“The university’s treatment of Felix fundamentally violates its responsibilities under human rights legislation,” said Christian Legal Centre chief executive Andrea Williams.
“The university has failed to protect his freedom of speech…and his freedom of religion.”
She added: “Felix has worked with people who identify as homosexual, treating them with respect and kindness. What he shared on his Facebook page simply reflects biblical teaching on sexual behaviour.
“Unless he wins this case he will be forever barred from social work. Felix is entitled to express his views, especially ones shared by millions of people around the world.
“There is no evidence that Felix’s views adversely impacted his work. Quite the contrary, he was a hard-working student who would be an asset to the profession.
“Sadly, this is yet another case of Christians being punished in the public arena, and of censorship of views.”
Barrister Paul Diamond, who represented Mr Ngole, had told Judge Lewis: “This case is another case in a long list of cases where a Christian adherent has expressed the traditional view on sexual sin.
“It is submitted that such speech is disfavoured by the state and expressions of such viewpoints evince disproportionate sanction. It is the duty of the court to robustly protect British freedoms.”
He had added: “The expression that homosexuality is a ‘sin’, or even use of the strong Biblical term of ‘abomination’, is a lawful religious expression.”
Mr Diamond said Mr Ngole, who had been in the first year of his course, had “effectively lost” his social work career.
Mr Ngole had been taking part in an “open debate” on a Facebook page about Kim Davis, a state official in Kentucky, US, who refused to register same-sex marriages, in 2015 when he expressed the view that “the Bible and God identify homosexuality as a sin”, Mr Diamond told the judge.
Barrister Sarah Hannett, who represented Sheffield University, said Mr Ngole had been taking a two-year “professionally qualifying degree” which was regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council.
“(He) posted comments on a publicly accessible Facebook page that were derogatory of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals,” she said.
“The views expressed are likely to undermine the trust and confidence that lesbian, gay and bisexual clients are entitled to have in (Mr Ngole) in his professional role as a social worker (and in the social work profession more widely).”
She said the problem was not that Mr Ngole held such views but the manner in which he had expressed them.
Ms Hannett said a university “fitness to practise” committee had decided to exclude Mr Ngole in early 2016 and that decision had been upheld by an appeals committee.
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