In September 2015, Felix Ngole was a student at Sheffield University where he was studying for an MA in social work. During a Facebook debate about Kim Davis- the county clerk from Kentucky who who defied a U.S. federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples- he wrote that:
“The Bible and God identify homosexuality as a sin” and “same-sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not. It is God’s words and man’s sentiments would not change his words. The devil has hijacked the constitution of the USA”.
He also shared a post saying “I stand with Kim Davis” and, in the comments below, quoted a bible verse from Leviticus calling homosexuality an “abomination”.
His public comments were reported to Sheffield University who convened a fitness to practice committee hearing.
Following this hearing at Sheffield University, Felix Ngole was informed that he had been “excluded from further study on a programme leading to a professional qualification” and was “no longer recognised as a University student.”
Ngole was told that, by posting his comments on a public social media platform , the committee ruled that he “may have caused offence to some individuals” and had “transgressed boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the social work profession”. His action was deemed to have an effect on his “ability to carry out a role as a social worker”.
In October 2017, two years after first making the comments, Felix Ngole’s appeal was heard at the High Court by Deputy High Court judge Rowena Collins-Rice.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Ngole argued that his rights to freedom of speech and thought, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, had been breached by Sheffield University’s decision to expel him from their social work course.
In defending the comments that Sheffield University based their ‘fitness to practice’ concerns on, Felix Ngole explained how he had argued that Mrs Davis’ position was based on the “Biblical view of same-sex marriage as a sin”. He felt that he was making a “genuine contribution” to an important public debate of international significance and was therefore “entitled to express his religious views”.
Lawyers representing Sheffield University argued that Felix Ngole had shown “no insight” and believed the committee’s recommendation to remove him from the course was fair and proportionate.
The University’s position remained that they had a duty to consider Mr Ngole’s “fitness to practice” and, in doing so, felt he had posted comments on a publicly accessible Facebook page that were “derogatory of gay men and bisexuals”.
Deputy High Court judge Rowena Collins-Rice ruled against Mr Ngole and his case was dismissed.
Felix Ngole is back in Court today in a bid to overturn the first ruling made in October 2017. Lawyers for Ngole, who are seeking a judicial review in the Appeal Court, will argue that if the court ruling from 2017 is allowed to stand then anyone working in a regulated profession will lose their right to free speech.
The Times reports that Paul Diamond, a barrister specialising in religious and human rights, will argue that regulators such as the HCPC would, by implication, have to be given the powers of Orwellian thought police to monitor social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter. Diamond is expected to argue that it would leave a fifth of the United Kingdom’s workforce vulnerable to charges that they had breached their professional code of conduct for simply expressing unpopular beliefs that others subjectively believed were beyond the pale.
The court will hear how there are more than 200 regulated professions in the UK, which create a total workforce of more than six million people. Should the initial ruling that Mr Ngole was justly removed from his social work course be allowed to stand, all of these people will face restrictions to their free speech.
The Court will also be told that Felix Ngole’s comments on Facebook are shared by millions of Christians in the United Kingdom alone and that people should not be persecuted for quoting or paraphrasing the Bible; that their religious beliefs and freedoms of expression are protected by human rights laws.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is backing Felix Ngole’s appeal, said: “Free speech is not meaningfully free if it only applies to views that everyone finds acceptable.”