Christian student kicked off university course over gay marriage views wins court of appeal fight

Christian student kicked off a university course over his views on gay marriage has celebrated his latest legal battle as “great news” for anyone who cares about free speech.

Felix Ngole, 41, said that he was expressing a traditional religious view when he was accused of posting derogatory comments about homosexuals and bisexuals on Facebook.

As a result of was thrown off the Sheffield University course where he was completing a postgraduate degree in social work. University bosses said Mr Ngole showed “no insight” and the decision to remove him from the course was fair.

They said he had been studying for a professional qualification and they had to consider his fitness to practise.

However the devout Christian, of Barnsley, south Yorkshire, said his rights to freedom of speech and thought, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, were breached when he was thrown out.

Deputy High Court Judge Rowena Collins Rice ruled against Mr Ngole following a trial in London in 2017, but today three Court of Appeal judges overturned that ruling and said that university bosses should reconsider.

“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,” Mr Ngole said following the appeal ruling by Lord Justice Irwin, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Sir Jack Beatson.

“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.”

“I am thankful to the judges for recognising that I did not discriminate against anyone and that it was not I who was entrenched, lacking insight or disproportionate in my approach to the issue, but the University of Sheffield.

“I have suffered tremendously as a result of how I was treated by the University of Sheffield and I feel that four years of my life have been taken away from me. Despite all this, I feel overwhelming joy that what I have lost will be so much gain to Christians today and in the future as a result of this important ruling for freedom.”

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 had 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”.

University bosses said that he had posted comments on a publicly accessible Facebook page which were “derogatory of gay men and bisexuals” and Judge Collins Rice ruled that university bosses acted within the law, however appeal judges said the university’s disciplinary proceedings were flawed.

The three judges said that 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 and that a university fitness to practise committee should stage another hearing and reconsider Mr Ngole’s case.

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 once registered.

“Fitness to practise committees use national professional guidance and often need to consider a student’s insight and consideration about their chosen profession.

“This case was therefore not part of the university’s standard disciplinary procedures or about its support of freedom of speech.

“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.”

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