Theatre critic and theologian cannot be used as expert evidence in Christian actress's discrimination case

A judge's decision to exclude expert evidence in the case of a Christian actress sacked over her views on homosexuality has been upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London. 

Witness statements from respected theologian Dr Martin Parsons and Spectator theatre critic Lloyd Evans were now allowed to be admitted as evidence in the case of Seyi Omooba by an employment judge in June. 

In its verdict on Wednesday, appeal tribunal judge Mr Justice Griffiths said it was a judge's "broad discretion" to decide whether to admit expert evidence. 

Miss Omooba is challenging her sacking by Leicester Curve Theatre, which last year removed her from the lead role of Celie in a production of The Color Purple over a 2014 Facebook post in which she said she did not agree with homosexuality.

The legal action extends to her agents, Global Artists Agency, on the grounds that it failed to act for her when the controversy broke. 

In his witness statement, Lloyd Evans said that it was "not of any importance for an actor to agree with the ethical views or the feelings of a character in a play".

"Were that necessary, the art of drama would not exist, and many of the plays we regard as classics would be impossible to stage," he said. 

Dr Parsons argued that Miss Omooba's Facebook post constituted "a fair and reasonable expression of Christian beliefs, as those beliefs have historically been held by the overwhelming majority of the Christian church throughout history".

Responding to the hearing today, Miss Omooba described the impact of the controversy on her acting career.

"Since I lost the role as Celie and was fired by my agency I have not been employed," she said. 

"All doors have been intentionally closed to me and people who used to give me the time of day now ignore me. My career was more than a job to me, it was something that I loved.

"When I heard that the expert evidence was being rejected, I didn't understand how a judge would not want experts in their field to help decide a case if you wanted it to be fair. It was upsetting, as is this ruling, but we are determined keep fighting for justice."

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Miss Omooba, said that Evans and Dr Parsons had been "silenced" in what is a "crucial case for Christian freedom". 

"Are we really saying that Christians should not be actors or be able to voice their opinions and beliefs in public?" she said. 

"It is astonishing that we have had to provide proof on what the Bible says about marriage being between a man and a woman. Not so long ago this would have been self-evident.

"Many earlier cases of this kind have been rejected by courts on the grounds that we provided no expert evidence to prove that.

"However, when we do provide expert evidence, the courts refuse to consider it. One cannot help the impression that the courts treat Christian cases as too sensitive to afford a fair trial, for the fear of ending up with a politically incorrect result.

"This case raises deep cultural issues on whether Christians have the freedom to hold and express Biblical mainstream views in public without fear of losing their careers and we will continue to seek justice at the full hearing in February."