University considering response after losing legal case with social work student
University bosses are considering their response after losing the latest round of a legal fight with a devout Christian thrown off a social work course following allegations he posted derogatory comments about homosexuals and bisexuals on Facebook.
Felix Ngole (pictured), who said he was expressing a traditional Christian view and complained that Sheffield University bosses unfairly stopped him completing a postgraduate degree, hailed a ruling by Court of Appeal judges as “great news” for anyone who cared about free speech.
But university bosses took a different view and said Mr Ngole had won on only one aspect of the case which was “to do with early procedural processes”.
They said they would be considering their response to the ruling.
Mr Ngole, 40, who works as a carer, said his human right to free speech was breached when he was thrown out. University bosses disagreed.
They said he had been studying for a professional qualification and his fitness to practise had to be considered.
A judge ruled against Mr Ngole after a High Court trial in London in 2017.
But three Court of Appeal judges on Wednesday overturned that decision.
Lord Justice Irwin, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Sir Jack Beatson say university bosses should reconsider the case.
“This is great news, not only for me and my family, but for everyone who cares about freedom of speech, especially for those working in or studying for caring professions,” said Mr Ngole.
“As Christians we are called to serve others and to care for everyone, yet publicly and privately we must also be free to express our beliefs and what the Bible says without fear of losing our livelihoods.”
A Sheffield University spokeswoman said: “The University of Sheffield supports the rights of students to hold and debate a wide range of views and beliefs.
“However, for students studying on courses that lead to professional registration, we have a responsibility to look at how any concerns raised could impact a student’s fitness to practise.”
She added “The court dismissed the majority of the appeal submitted by the applicant and has only upheld one aspect to do with early procedural processes.
“The university will be considering its response to the judgment.”
Mr Ngole posted comments in 2015 when taking part in a debate on a Facebook page about Kim Davis, a state official in the US state of Kentucky, who refused to register same-sex marriages, judges heard
He said Mrs Davis’s position was based on the “Biblical view of same-sex marriage as a sin”, said he was making a “genuine contribution” to an important public debate, and he was “entitled to express his religious views”.
Appeal judges said the university’s disciplinary proceedings were flawed.
They said university bosses adopted an untenable position – thinking that any expression of disapproval of same-sex relations, however “mildly expressed”, on a public social media platform was a breach of profession guidelines.
Judges said a university fitness to practise committee should stage another hearing and reconsider Mr Ngole’s case.
Mr Ngole had been backed by the Christian Legal Centre, an organisation which supports Christians embroiled in litigation.
“This is the first Court of Appeal judgment regarding freedom of expression of Biblical views which sets limits on the rights of professional regulators to limit free speech on social media,” said a spokesman for the centre.
“The judgment will be an authoritative statement of the law which is likely to be relied upon in hundreds of current and future cases.”
Chief executive Andrea Williams added: “Christians and others now know that it is their legal right to express Biblical views on social media or elsewhere without fear for their professional careers.”
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