Now court issues stunning ruling in fight over social media
The Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom has issued a landmark victory for a Christian student who was expelled from Sheffield University for citing the Bible’s view of sexuality and marriage in social media conversations.
The university learned of Felix Ngole’s social media posts through an anonymous complaint.
The new court ruling reversing the punishment is a “statement of the law likely to be relied upon in hundreds of cases,” according to the U.K. activist group Christian Concern.
The decision affirmed the rights of British Christians “to freely express their faith,” the group said.
Calling it a “major development of the law,” Christian Concern said it’s “now clear that Christians have the legal right to express Biblical views on social media and elsewhere in public without fear for their professional careers.”
“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,” the group said.
Ngole was expelled in 2016 from his social-work studies at Sheffield University after quoting Bible verses on Facebook that were deemed critical of homosexuality, the organization said.
The year before, Ngole engaged in a discussion on Facebook about Kim Davis, the Kentucky registrar jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
During that debate he quoted Bible verses regarding marriage and the sin of homosexual activity.
The anonymous complaint to the school, apparently from a fellow student, came months later. Sheffield officials held a “Fitness to Practice” hearing because of his social-work studies.
“He was informed that he had brought the social work profession into disrepute and was then expelled from the course, losing the career he had worked so hard for,” Christian Concern said.
School officials later tried to justify their actions by claiming Ngole lacked “insight” into his social media posts.
They said that expressing Christian views was unacceptable.
“In some shocking exchanges from the High Court hearing, [which preceded the Court of Appeal decision] the University of Sheffield implied that Felix was not allowed to express the Christian viewpoint on same-sex marriage or homosexuality on any public forum, including in a church,” Christian Concern said.
But the Court of Appeal’s decision means it was the university that was “lacking insight” into the Christian viewpoint.
The Court of Appeal condemned the position of the university, which would have people fearing they would become the target of an anonymous complaint.
“The mere expression of views on theological grounds (e.g. that ‘homosexuality is a sin’) does not necessarily connote that the person expressing such views will discriminate on such grounds,” the judgment said.
It noted Ngole never was shown to be acting with discrimination.
“The outcome of this case will have significant implications not only for Christian freedom of speech, but in relation to all free speech. For example, comments made by people on social media (often many years ago) have recently been arbitrarily used to silence viewpoints that people dislike or disagree with,” Christian Concern explained.
Ngole said: “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. As Christians we are called to care for and serve others, and publicly and privately we must be free to express our beliefs, especially when asked, without fear of losing our livelihoods.
“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.”
Andrea Williams of the U.K.’s Christian Legal Centre called it a “watershed case for Christians and a resounding victory for freedom of speech.”
“We are delighted that the Court of Appeal has seen the importance of this case and made a ruling that accords with common sense. It is shocking that the university sought to censor expression of the Bible in this way, and we hope this sends out a message of freedom across all universities and professions that Christians and others should be allowed to express their views without fear of censorship or discipline.”
Williams said the case now returns to the university which must review its actions in light of the new precedent.