Social work student ‘expelled’ from course after anti-gay marriage Facebook posts

A committee found Felix Ngole's social media posts were inappropriate for someone entering the social work profession

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Photo: Universal Images Group/REX Shuttershock

A Christian social work student is appealing against a decision to remove him from his course for voicing opposition to gay marriage on Facebook.

Felix Ngole, 38, was in his second year of an MA in social work course at Sheffield University when a committee found his Facebook posts had “transgressed boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the social work profession”.

He was reportedly removed from his course and told to hand in his student card, a move his supporters said had “effectively barred” him from training as a social worker.

Ngole shared posts showing support for Kim Davis, the American county clerk jailed after she refused marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On his private Facebook account, he also argued that homosexual activity was against the teaching of the Bible and quoted a verse from Leviticus that described it as an “abomination” in September 2015.

The posts reportedly triggered a complaint from a fellow student. This led to a meeting at the university and later the fitness to practise panel hearing.

The panel was run by the university but considered conduct in relation to the Health and Care Professions Council standards for social workers. It concluded Ngole was entitled to his opinions but there was a danger that “publicly posting those views” would have an effect on his ability to practice as a social worker.

What the HCPC standards say
1.5 You must not discriminate against service users, carers or colleagues by allowing your personal views to affect your professional relationships or the care, treatment or other services that you provide.
1.6 You must challenge colleagues if you think that they have discriminated against, or are discriminating against, service users, carers and colleagues.
2.7 You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites.
9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.
9.4 You must declare issues that might create conflicts of interest and make sure that they do not influence your judgement.

Ngole told The Telegraph: “I am not against people who are in same-sex relationships, that is their choice, but I am a Christian and if asked for my views I should be free to express that.

“I didn’t intimidate anyone and I didn’t treat them in a discriminatory manner.

“I have worked with people in same-sex relationships in the past and there has been no issue whatsoever but the university said that if someone Googled me and found that (comment) they would not be confident to come to me for support.”

Untested and unproven

Ngole is reportedly contesting the university’s decision on the grounds he was found unfit to practice because he might offend someone, rather than evidence of actual offence.

He added: “I don’t see how you can end somebody’s professional career based on something that is untested and unproven.”

Ngole’s is being supported in his appeal by the Christian Legal Centre.

Andrea Williams, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “What is absolutely shocking is that we have got a student who expresses a view on his own private Facebook page and is removed from a university course and effectively barred from professional vocational training for voicing opinions which are held by millions of people around the world.”

A Sheffield University spokesman said: “The individual concerned is currently appealing the decision of a fitness to practise committee, relating to professional registration and the standards of the relevant professional body.

“These standards are nationally determined by the Health and Care Professions Council. As the case is subject to appeal, the University of Sheffield will not comment on this case at this time.”

19 Responses to Social work student ‘expelled’ from course after anti-gay marriage Facebook posts

  1. G Graham February 29, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

    Good for Sheffield, I know of another Institution who simply would not do this – blame the academics and insist he be sent out on placement with vulnerable children and adults.

  2. Susan Cottrell February 29, 2016 at 11:40 pm #

    The Bible contains many verses that read to say that God supports slavery, but I would not consider someone who holds that as a personal belief to be safe as a counselor. Ngole is welcome to his personal beliefs, but if HCPC is going to stand behind him (by licensing him), he must abide by their rules for the community of care they have created. I assume they would not also license those who believe women should be restricted to certain roles or that left-handed people are sinful (though verses can be read to support both of those).

    • Christopher Briscoe March 12, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

      Hello there, Susan, please let me respond to your comments: you said the Bible contains verses to say that God supports slavery. I believe you are slightly mistaken, because you need to understand the culture of when those verses were given, such as in the book Ephesians, Chapter 6:5 which says, “Slaves obey your earthly masters…” Of course, God has never supported slavery in any form, that word “slave” in our modern rendering is “Employee” and “Master” is Employer. The writer of that letter was the Apostle Paul writing to the Church in Turkey in the First Century, but at that time in their culture it was acceptable. Also, your comment about left-handed people as sinful, please could you let me know where there are such verses in the Bible. Please give me the verses and chapters so I can look them up because I cannot recollect them. Thanking you in advance, and have a wonderful day.

  3. Amy March 1, 2016 at 3:12 am #

    It’s sad that our country has come to the point where you can no longer express ur point of view without someone saying ur being racist or homophobic. Come on it was on his own personal Facebook page not the schools! Now, all they have done is went and pissed him off and he will probably sue. They said he was discriminating same sex couples but that’s wat we in America call THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!

    • Paul March 8, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

      To the American that touts his First Amendment right, I concur, in that ‘ …there is no right in law not to be offended – and that offence is the “necessary price” of free speech.’. However, he is BOUND by the rules that prohibit his expression of opinions contrary to those necessary to be licenced in the profession. See 2.7 and 9.1 above. You wanna join the club you abide by the rules, matey.

  4. alison March 1, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

    As a Christian I am saddened by those who adhere so strictly to teachings which condemn rather than offer love and understanding, however Felix Ngole is entitled to think what he choses on the matter, the acid test is his behaviour not his thoughts.

    Has he ever treated a member of the LGBT community in a discriminatory way? If not then Sheffield University are behaving like the Thought Police, condemning Ngole for his devoutly held faith, rather than his actions.

    I would like to think that the appropriate thing to do was to explain to any student, that his use of social media should be reconsidered in the light of his professional responsibilities.

    • Rhi March 1, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

      When a person enters a profession at their own accord, they accept the professions ethical standards and practices. His views are discriminatory and he showed himself to be unfit and unprofessional. Many professions have such standards and there is no “freedom of speech” once you commit yourself to being held to certain standards. Additionally, no one has a “right” to an opinion. That is something Americans need to grow out of.

    • Sammi Morgans March 3, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

      Teaching includes pointing the wrongs of someones doing in the right direction. Condemning their first misdemeanor is not teaching them it’s demeaning them.

      How is he to trust anyone now if he is not allowed to even give a single thought over a public space. He will most likely retreat which is a shame considering he could be a fantastic social worker for our future.

      For goodness sake too many voices are being dampened due to quick fire response of racism or discrimination. Do half of the people shouting these odds really know what they mean.

  5. Ruth Cartwright March 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    I don’t agree with Mr Ngole’s views (and I too am a Christian), but I think this was too draconian a move with no evidence that Mr Ngole’s opinion on equal marriage would impact on service users with whom he was working. We all have views and prejudices (to deny this is a very dangerous thing to do), and we have to be self-aware and ensure they do not affect our working relationships with colleagues and service users, and there seems to have been no evidence that Mr Ngole was discriminating against people in same sex unions. These views should not have been publicly aired on social media, but a disciplinary measure rather than expulsion from his course would seem a more appropriate punishment. Social workers have been in trouble before for injudicious use of social media – BASW has some helpful guidelines. Of course if Mr Ngole was allowing his opinion to affect his attitude to and treatment of people, serious questions about his suitability for social work would have to be raised.

  6. luke b March 1, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    I do not agree with Felix Ngole views related to his interpretation of christian writing, however holding that view and the action of posting links on his private social media wall does not mean he could not be an objective practitioner. We all hold views regarding the world and we are still able do our jobs, even if we hold opposing ideas. This is the purpose of supervision, positive working culture, thresholds, levels of hierarchical leadership and not making decisions in isolation.

    Furthermore surely it is better to discuss these opposing ideologies and how it can work than censorship and isolate? I would rather a solution was found that respected both views….after all isnt that part of the job?

  7. Stuart March 2, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    He’s (was!?) a student not a qualified practitioner. I’d have thought explaining his error and giving him the opportunity to remove offensive posts and to commit himself to better behaviour in future might have been more appropriate.
    But I do of coure abhorr the views he I reported to hold and his stupidity in expressing them online.
    Now what do we do about people who. already practice as social workers while wearing symbols of adherence to religions which are or can be perceived to be fundamentally incompatible with equal respect for, e.g. gay & lesbian people??

    • Jason March 2, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

      I agree with Stuart that some kind of action to correct this behaviour would have been more appropriate. It’s really nothing to do with religion. Being religious does not make your views more or less important or more or less offensive.
      He can think what he likes – I know I do.

      But if one’s actions are not consistent with our core values, or you can’t MAKE them consistent in training, that’s another matter. Like skills, sometimes awareness need to be taught. That’s why he went to Uni. and there should be teaching before judging.

  8. Lynne Brosnan March 2, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    He should have been aware of his status as a potential professional. Having a view and sharing those views on social media are two different things. He and others should be aware of this.

  9. Andrew Williams March 2, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    One of the core responsibilities / expectations of social workers is that they recognise diversity and challenge discrimination. Hard to see how this student would be able to do that given his discriminatory views that he is clearly only to happy to share with others on social media. So well done Sheffield University for excluding him from course. Have to wonder why someone who holds these views wants to be a social worker in the first place.
    Andrew Williams, Social Worker

    • Sammi Morgans March 3, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

      Andrew Williams I find your response offensive to social workers. Your two final sentences (for a social worker) leaves me speechless. How discriminate and in my opinion down right nasty are you being.

      I’m not sure I would feel confident around you from a service users perspective as you form an oppositional opinion way too quick, and there was me thinking that being a social worker included reflection, to be non judgemental, a good listener and aid empowerment to others to make change – that doesn’t just mean s/w to s/u it also means s/w to s/w.

  10. Helen March 3, 2016 at 12:49 am #

    Oh if only life were that simple. Social work is a secular role, yet spiritual guidance is widely accepted and promoted – through the role of western psychology Mindfulness (formerly known as meditation) currently comes highly recommended, despite it’s origins in Buddhism. Other practices originating in Eastern religions, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology and the martial arts, including variations such as Yoga and Tai Chi as well as Karate and Kung Fu, have all become mainstream in the social worker’s ‘contacts’ book.

    One way or another we all have our beliefs and the vast majority of those beliefs can be traced to some kind of religious history. For some that will come in the form of Westernised versions of Eastern religions. For others it will be more traditionally recognised religions, including the Abrahamic and monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as those who follow more directly other mainstream religions such as Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism.

    Our service users come from a variety of backgrounds, and all will have absorbed some of the same beliefs from the environment in which they live. And again many of those beliefs will be watered down versions of Eastern philosophies. But some will also be influenced more by the Abrahamic religions. It’s accepted and it’s normal.

    At no point should anyone in a position of responsibility try to promote their own spiritual beliefs system. Social work training includes looking at and recognising our values and coming to terms with the differences in our values and those of others around us – not to change our beliefs in order to conform to a homogeneous whole, but recognising that differences are not necessarily good or bad, just different. The question for this student should be: is he able to practice according to the professional codes of conduct irrespective of his personal beliefs?

    What no-one here is addressing is the elephant in the room. If this man is not fit to be a social worker because someone can Google his name and find out he holds traditional Christian beliefs, then neither should anyone be able to be a social worker whose religious beliefs can be identified by their outward appearance whether clothing, headwear or beards, such as with the Muslim, Jew and Sikh at the very least. Any of those could hold very similar beliefs to the Christian as regards homosexuality, marriage and abortion. There would be an absolute outcry, and rightly so, if a Muslim woman was banned from becoming a social worker because she adhered to Islamic dress codes. Or a Sikh man or woman rejected for wearing the turban or Dastar.

    Research (eg Implicit Association Test) has shown that we all have at least some degree of prejudice. I’ve suggested we all have our own beliefs systems, some more recognisably religious than others but all influenced by the environment in which we live. The social work we practice in the UK/West would be incomprehensible in other parts of the world. We are all the product of the world in which we are born and develop, our environments and our cultures. The question for all of us, as for Felix Ngole, is can we practice in accordance with the Code of Ethics and Practice, regardless of our personal beliefs, values, prejudices and cultural norms? And can we accept that others may have different beliefs, opinions and prejudices yet still also be able to practice according to those same standards? Or do our prejudices get in the way of such acceptance?

  11. Dave March 3, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    It seems to me that it is very sad that in fact increasingly people are being judged (in this case quite literally, given punishment followed) on the basis of a increasingly narrow set of moral precepts and principles. Also, is it not one thing to say that you believe some people’s actions are wrong and another thing altogether to treat them in some sort of discriminatory way as result?

    Social work is often about working with people (and forming positive relationships with them) even though you do not approve of their actions and what they do. Some of those actions will require a response from social workers (especially where they affect others) – many do not and we encourage self-determination. That still does not mean we have to agree with what they do.

    I read a recent article on someone who ‘self-referred’ themselves to HCPC. On this basis how many people who hold traditional Christian or Muslim beliefs (the latter often being more rigid and strongly held) on sexuality should be self-referring themselves?

  12. Louise March 5, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    He was very foolish to publish this sentiment on facebook and should have known better. It is worrying that he quoted a passage that described homosexual activity as an ‘abomination’. Perhaps the university have been a bit too harsh, he is a student after all and may well have learnt a lot from this incident. Then again, there may be other contributory factors to the committee’s decision, of which we are not privy.

  13. David Jones March 14, 2016 at 10:19 am #

    His comments were not posted on his private Facebook page. They were posted in comments on a publicly available article.