Legal ruling over devout Sheffield Christian's comments sparks free speech debate

A devout Christian who won a legal battle after being thrown off a university course after being accused of posting derogatory comments about homosexuals and bisexuals on Facebook has sparked a debate about free speech.

By Lee Peace
Monday, 08 July, 2019, 14:07

Felix Ngole said he was expressing a traditional Christian view and complained that Sheffield University bosses unfairly stopped him completing a postgraduate degree.

Felix Ngole.

He said his rights to freedom of speech and thought, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, were breached when he was thrown out.

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.

A judge ruled against Mr Ngole after a High Court trial in London in 2017, but three Court of Appeal judges have overturned that ruling by Deputy High Court Judge Rowena Collins Rice. They say university bosses should reconsider.

The move has sparked a debate about free speech among Star readers on Facebook.

Among dozens of comments, Paul Motley said: “We all have views and the choice of free speech. He chose to use his. No problem.”

Jordan Bailey added: “While I disagree with his views I think it's important to defend his right to say it.”

Lord Justice Irwin, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Sir Jack Beatson had analysed Mr Ngole’s appeal at a Court of Appeal hearing in London in March and ruled in his favour last week.

Mr Mgole 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.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“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.”

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’.

Appeal judges said the university’s disciplinary proceedings were flawed.

A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield said the institution “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."