High Court to review decision to expel social work student for anti-gay marriage Facebook posts

The student was expelled from his social work masters course last year

Photo: tashatuvango/Fotolia

The High Court is to review a university’s decision to expel a social work postgraduate student who expressed views against gay marriage on Facebook.

In 2016, Felix Ngole was expelled from his social work master’s degree at Sheffield University following posts he made on Facebook in support of Kim Davis, an American county clerk who was jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The postgraduate student also quoted a verse from Leviticus, which labelled homosexuality an “abomination”, and said, “the Bible and God identify homosexuality as a sin”, The Telegraph reports.

At a court hearing yesterday, judges granted Ngole’s request for a judicial review into his expulsion. The full hearing will follow later this year.

Before the hearing, Ngole argued: “My beliefs about marriage and sexual ethics reflect mainstream, biblical understanding, shared by millions around the world. Simply expressing that understanding, in a personal capacity, on my Facebook page, cannot be allowed to become a bar to serving and helping others in a professional capacity as a social worker.”

Ngole was expelled from his course after a complaint from a fellow student about the comments he made on Facebook. Ngole’s social work course conducted an internal fitness to practise hearing, which considered his conduct in relation to the Health and Care Professions Council’s standards for social workers. It concluded Ngole should be removed from his course.

At yesterday’s hearing, Sarah Hannett, the barrister acting for Sheffield University, told the court how the university’s policy was that services must be provided without discrimination and without the perception of discrimination, which required Ngole to be removed from the course.

She added that Ngole’s punishment was not for his views, but for “the place and manner” in which he shared them.

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.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, which is supporting Ngole in his legal challenge, said: “The suggestion that services must be provided without ‘the perception of discrimination’ is deeply concerning, and the low threshold represents a potential regression for Christian freedoms.”

Hannett told The Telegraph that Ngole had, “posted comments on a publicly accessible Facebook page that were derogatory of lesbians, gay men and bixesuals”.

She said his views were likely to “undermine the trust” clients could place in him as a social worker.

10 Responses to High Court to review decision to expel social work student for anti-gay marriage Facebook posts

  1. Paul Owen April 26, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    Without seeing the posts it’s rather difficult to make any form of informed judgement without leaping up and down shouting ‘homophobia’. Is it really abusive to support someone jailed for following their principles.

    In this country we appear to have got to the stage where people are not allowed to have any views or make any comment without worrying about being classed as homophobic, prejudiced against black people, those following a religion, short people, or people with ginger hair.

    Can we please grow up.

    I’ll now sit back and wait for the posts saying I’m supporting abuse.

    • Christina April 27, 2017 at 9:46 pm #

      You are absolutely right, Paul, and you are certainly not supporting abuse – you are speaking out against abuse.

  2. Rosaline April 26, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    Personal beliefs are indeed personal and professionals must be provided with the autonomy to demonstrate they are able to practise safely and fairly. There are many of us who have personal views, which are not congruent to our professional values, this is ok. I do believe Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats is in the same position. He has proven he can advocate and champion for injustices regardless of his personal beliefs.

    The social work programme co-ordinator and HCPC should reflect on the wording of the codes of practice, it is about your personal beliefs not impacting on service delivery. Removing a student from a social work programme should only have been completed, if there was evidence that the students personal beliefs impacted on engagement, relationships and practice. This is what remains unclear.

  3. John Smith April 27, 2017 at 6:46 am #

    How on earth can people take exception to the wording of the HCPC guidance quoted in the article and why does the HCPC need to reflect on the wording when it was not directly involved in the decision in this case?

    It concerns me when anyone is prepared to make excuses for potentially harmful attitudes to minority groups in society, especially without knowing the full facts of the case.

    • Helen Williamson April 27, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

      I absolutely agree with the decision to expel him. Of course he has every right to hold his own views about gay people, gay marriage etc, but this does not give him the right to practice as a social worker. Principles of equal rights and anti-discriminatory practice under-pin social work values, his views are not congruent with these. I’m fed up with a hierarchy of discrimination which singles out homophobia as a “moral or religious issue”.

      We still live in a society where mental health issues, suicide and substance misuse problems are more prevalent within LGBT communities. My social work MA thesis looked at decision making around the coming out process. KEY to the decision about whether to in effect “hide” your true self were the views of the person concerned, how accepted you felt, whether you felt safe, whether you could “be yourself”. It would take a service user little time to work out what this man’s views were. How on earth would you expect a service user to trust him as a practitioner? He chose to publicise his views on Facebook…which doesn’t bode well for his ability to keep his “beliefs” to himself.

      • dan May 3, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

        I completely agree with this post.

  4. Peter Kent April 28, 2017 at 12:07 am #

    At the beginning of all social work courses, there should be a lengthy session on the risks of using Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media outlets. Cannot believe someone on a masters degree course is unable to apply their critical thinking skills to the use of the internet. Best things to mention on FB and its ilk are the weather and your child’s successful camping trip. Anything more controversial and you’re asking for trouble.

  5. Ryan April 28, 2017 at 4:55 am #

    Its simple. SW are agents of morality, fairness and ethics. To share discriminatory views on social media and to be expected to be allowed to work with vulnerable people worries me. I accept people have different views; but I am interested in what this would look like in his practice? Would his views influence practice – key point. If he can work say with a child coming to terms with their sexuality in a balanced, non judgemental manner then good. I also worry about context of religion being used as an excuse to hold discriminatory views; can one hold views such as this and meet criteria of say the PCF as a Professional. Not an easy question but surely equality should be backbone of SW ethical stance and not supporting gay marriage sure not equal!

  6. dan May 3, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

    He absolutely should have been expelled from the course. If his belief is that being gay is a sin – how can he objectively work with LGBT service users. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but he should not have put it on a public sight. Religious rights do not overrule gay peoples rights. If this was about any other minority group – people would be up in arms. Just another example of the prejudice gay people face.

  7. Chris May 4, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

    It’s naive to think that any of us are truly unbiased – we all carry conscious and unconscious prejudices and it’s part of our professional development to identify and understand these.

    Sad as it is, I know many social workers who are devout practitioners of religions which explicitly describe homosexuality (and left-handedness, and sex outside marriage, etc, etc…) as a mortal sin.

    However, I wouldn’t want to see this person practicing as a social worker. He’s crossed a line by publicising his views, suggesting that he would have no problem expressing them in the workplace. In an interconnected world where is name is already linked to these stories, it would be impossible for him to practice with integrity around either professionals or service users with lives or identities he regards as ‘sinful’.
    Good social work happens in trusting relationships – hard to see how he could build these under these circumstances.