Victory for Christian social work student removed from course over Facebook post

Felix Ngole said it was unfair of the University of Sheffield to remove him from his course over his views

A Christian student who was expelled from his university social work course over Facebook comments about gay and bisexual people has won an appeal in court.

In a landmark judgement, the Court of Appeal agreed that the University of Sheffield had been wrong to remove Felix Ngole from the course after expressing a traditional Christian view about sexuality on Facebook. 

After receiving an anonymous complaint over the comments, the University of Sheffield expelled Mr Ngole, saying that he "lacked insight" into the impact of his posts.

Mr Ngole argued that he should have the freedom to express his Christian beliefs about sexuality and that it was unfair of the University of Sheffield to prevent him from completing his postgraduate studies.

The High Court upheld the University of Sheffield's actions in 2017, but at a hearing on Wednesday, three appeal judges overturned that ruling. 

The Court of Appeal came down in favour of Mr Ngole, finding that his comments on Facebook did not amount to discrimination.

"The mere expression of religious views about sin does not necessarily connote discrimination," the ruling stated. 

The Christian Legal Centre, which has represented Mr Ngole in his case, said the judgement was a "crucial outcome" for the rights of Christians in the UK to freely express their faith. 

It said the ruling was likely to influence similar court cases involving the free speech of Christians.

Following the hearing, Mr 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 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." 

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "This is a watershed case for Christians and a resounding victory for freedom of speech.

"It is shocking that the University sought to censor discussion 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.

"Due to Felix's sacrifice, 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. This is a major development of the law and must be upheld and respected in current and future Christian freedom cases." 

A spokesperson from the University of Sheffield, 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 judgement."