Social work student expelled after calling homosexuality ‘a sin’ on Facebook loses court appeal

Felix Ngole was removed from his master's social work degree last year after calling homosexuality "a sin" on Facebook

Royal Courts of Justice
Photo: Gary Brigden

by Mithran Samuel & Luke Stevenson

A social work student removed from his course following anti-gay Facebook posts has lost a judicial review against the university’s decision.

Felix Ngole was removed from a master’s social work degree at Sheffield University last year following an internal fitness to practise process, triggered by numerous Facebook posts he made defending Kim Davis, an American registrar who was jailed for refusing to give gay couples marriage licenses on grounds of faith.

During the online discussion he labelled homosexuality “a sin, no matter how you want to dress it up”.

Last week, a judge ruled that the university had acted lawfully in removing Ngole under fitness to practise (FTP) proceedings validated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and based on its standards and guidance for students.

The university’s FTP panel found that, in posting his views publicly, Ngole had breached requirements to keep high standards of personal conduct and make sure his behaviour did not damage public confidence in the profession. He had also given no evidence that he would refrain from presenting his views in the same way in future.

Ngole appealed to a higher ‘appeals committee’ in the university, which upheld the FTP panel’s decision, and said that his removal from the course was proportionate because of the lack of insight he had shown into his actions.

In the judicial review, Ngole challenged the appeals commiteee’s  decision on the basis it was an “unlawful interference” with his rights to free speech and freedom of religion under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the decision was “arbitrary and unfair in substance – in effect public law irrationality”.

No interference

In rejecting the appeal, Judge Rowena Collins Rice said that there had been no interference with Ngole’s freedom of religion and that the university’s interference with his freedom of expression had been lawful in so far as it accorded with the HCPC’s and the university’s standards. It was also in pursuit of legitimate aims – ensuring that public confidence in the profession was maintained and that service users were treated with dignity and without discrimination, and perceived to be so treated – and proportionate.

The judge said that the university was not concerned about the religious content of the posts but the fact that they could be accessed by people, including service users, “who would perceive them as judgemental, incompatible with service ethos, or suggestive of discriminatory intent”.

“Whatever the actual intention was, it was the perception of the posting that would cause the damage. It was reasonable to be concerned about that perception,” she added.

Discriminatory

Beyond the postings, the judge said the university was even more concerned by the fact that Ngole appeared to deny the possibility that they would be perceived as discriminatory or that such a perception should be taken seriously. Instead, he seemed to think that he was exercising personal freedoms in a way that was none of the university’s business.

Judge Rice said: “Social workers have to deal with how people will actually react to it in real life, and express themselves accordingly. That is not about a ‘blanket ban’, or about stifling religious speech or about denouncing faith; it is about seeing the world as others see it, and making the connection between what you say and the provision of public services in sensitive and diverse circumstances.

“Trainee social workers have to satisfy their supervisors that they understand this, and are if necessary working hard at it. That requires a reflective and proactive response to concerns being raised (the development of ‘autonomous and reflective thinking’ is an HCPC set expectation for courses of this sort). A reactive and defensive response is likely only to amplify those concerns. It was reasonable to expect a student whose career was at stake to have gone further to show that he understood the questions and had some reassuring answers.”

Ngole also had a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education rejected earlier this year, after it decided the university had followed its procedures and “there was no evidence of bias”.

After the hearing, Ngole said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision and would launch a further appeal.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Ngole’s appeal, said: “Many views are frequently expressed by students on social media and in other contexts. It is the expression of Biblical morality that has been singled out for sanction by the university.

“The university, in investigating Felix’s personal Facebook posts and disciplining him for them, is acting as if they are thought police. This ruling will have a chilling effect on Christian students up and down the country who will now understand that their personal social media posts may be investigated for political correctness.”

46 Responses to Social work student expelled after calling homosexuality ‘a sin’ on Facebook loses court appeal

  1. a MAN Called Horse November 1, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    There should be no place for Religion in Social work or Schools.

    • Satoshi November 2, 2017 at 10:42 am #

      That’s a stupid statement! There should be a place for religious and ethics in any discipline and people should not be stifled from sharing their views. Acting upon views by providing substandard services is a different thing. George Orwell should have called book 21st Century Irrationality!

      I wonder, if the students were females, white, blond and blue eyed, what the outcome would have been?

    • bettyboo November 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

      Are you as silly as your name Mr. Horse? Excuse me, but the UK was founded upon Judaeo-Christian values, and as we live in a democratic and free Western Society, all people have the right to freedom of religion, the right to change their religion, and the right to have no religion if they choose. We don’t need people like you telling us what to do.

      You are expressing and forcing your own intolerant views and beliefs upon others, just as you are trying to tell this social worker he does not have a right to practise his religion or to have a view different to yours. Did he call for acts of violence or to treat anybody in a bad manner? No, he was expressing his view based upon what the Bible say’s, which might I add is also the view contained in the Torah followed by Jews, as well as Islam also holding this belief. Incidentally, the Christian worldview is all people are sinners (none better, and none worse) and the overwhelming belief has been living in peace and loving others, just as the Golden rule say’s ‘Love your neighbour, as yourself’.

      This view is cultural Marxism at it’s worst, telling people what they must think, act, behave, and to conform to the popular view of the day (or else your a bigot or homophone, again calling other’s names and being the intolerant person you claim others are). The same as anybody who is right-wing (god forbid) is also viewed as being a cockroach, and worthy of disdain. If this is how intolerant you are of others, goodness help your service-users who follow other religions.

      Would you ask a Muslim woman to remove her Hijab, because as you say there is no place for religion in social work and schools?

      Sadly anti-Christian and anti-antisemitism is on the rise in the UK; and as a person of faith, I refuse to allow you to tell me I cannot practise my own religion. This social worker has been treated badly and vilified for following the bible. Shame on you, & for your information maybe gay people might not agree with how you live your life, but that’s their view!

      • Jonathan Ritchie November 4, 2017 at 10:27 am #

        So much for diversity, inclusion and anti-discriminatory practice…but those values were always a pack of lies.

  2. 1924 pudding November 1, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    Hey Felix, breaking news – it’s not all about you.

    To be a Social Worker you have to be strong enough to put your own personal beliefs on a back burner whilst you do your job – and yes part of doing this professional job is having awareness of what you put out into the public sphere e.g. social media. As a Social Worker you are going to be working with gay people. How do you expect to build trusting relationships with them if they are aware of your views and fearful that you are judging them?

    If expressing your religious views is so important to you that is fine, but maybe think of being a preacher rather than a Social Worker.

    • Satoshi November 2, 2017 at 10:34 am #

      Stupid reasoning! As a social worker, I can also speak out against rape, rapists, pardeophiles and still be a good social workers.

      Doctors might be total abstainers from liquor and strong drink, is that going to prevent them from carrying out liver operation resulting from excesses?

      Bet this guy would have gone on to be a professional and balanced social worker! Shame!

      • 1924 pudding November 2, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

        Your first analogy which suggests some sort of equivalence between rape, paedophilia and homosexuality is completely abhorrent, inaccurate and illogical. Rape and paedophilia are criminal acts characterized by an abuse of power, whereas homosexuality is legal and socially acceptable, between consenting adults, and is a characteristic protected under the law of our country from discrimination for some years now. I find it hard to believe that you ever graduated from any course, let alone a Social Work one, if you are unable to make the distinction.

        Your second analogy regarding doctors is poor. It fails to address the central issue which is not about what views may or may not be held by a given professional, but rather how they choose to express them in public. I don’t think anyone is saying that those working in such roles can’t have their own individual opinions, but simply that the power we have in our roles confers a great responsibility not to express them in a way which might oppress the people with whom we work – anti-oppressive practice!!!

      • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 8:06 am #

        Satoshi. It is your reasoning that’s flawed in implying homosexuality is in a similar catagory as rape or paediophilia

        Felix could not become a social worker because the way he expressed his views and responded to the concerns suggested he would likely discriminate against gay people.

        I have worked with colleagues who have similar religious based views, but able to understand they need to work within the law and social work values.

        Felix in supporting a US registrar who was denying gay people their legal right to marriage showed he couldn’t do this

        • Jonathan Ritchie November 4, 2017 at 10:32 am #

          Felix has not discriminated against anybody. The University of Sheffield has discriminated against him for expressing his religious and political beliefs.

        • Flabbergasted November 5, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

          I don’t think Satoshi was linking homosexuality to paediophilia in terms of being equally morally reprehensible. I think the point she was making was that a social worker is expected to work professionally with paediophiles , despite more than likely holding the view that their behaviour is wrong.

          So why was it assumed that a social worker would not be able to work professionable with homosexuals despite holding views that their behaviour is wrong. (A view in which a person is allowed to have).

  3. Johhny G November 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

    A shame but quite right. Religion should never provide an exemption from the normal rules of society. I wonder how he would feel if he heard a social worker with far right views supporting white supremacy?

    • John Porter November 1, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      I’ve got a sneaking suspicion he might feel at home with right wing views.

      • Mac John November 1, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

        Wow what a bunch of hypocrites..all of you.One rule for left wingers and another for right wingers..The same people who took the Bible to Africa and insisted homosexuality is wrong, yet when someone has that opinion from the Bible the so called righteous west brought to Africa he is vilified..Youre all a bunch of hypocrites.

        • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 8:11 am #

          Whilst i appreciate your comments about missionaries exporting homophobia, that has little relevance to the functiong of a contemporary, secular UK

          Many countries around the world have moved on or are moving on from those kind of views.

          It almost seems you’re suggesting we should let Felix carry on even though you yourself don’t agree fully with his stance

      • Satoshi November 2, 2017 at 10:17 am #

        You might feel at home with White Supremecist’s views. However, in my experience, having a religious view does not make you a bad social worker. As a social worker you may have an abhorrence for pheodiphilia, rapists, murderers etc. but you still have the propensity to be fair when providing a service to those people.

        Justice has been abused.

    • Satoshi November 2, 2017 at 10:27 am #

      Johhny G,

      Not only is it s shame but quite draconian judgment by judge. What are the normal rules of society?

      “I wonder how he would feel if he heard a social worker with far right views supporting white supremacy?” I guess might be given a gentle caution from a judge and faculty that might secretly harbour the same views. Shameful decision to expel! People with Christian and dare I say religious views make some of the best social workers.

  4. chirissie November 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm #

    If that is so ‘a man called horse’ then it should apply to all religions – no religious or faith schools of any description in our country. Perhaps we should undermine the foundations of society and restrict all freedoms including the freedom to teach our children faith, religion sprirituality. I think that would cause some worldwide outrage but it is an interesting view.

    • a MAN Called Horse November 1, 2017 at 3:27 pm #

      I totally agree should apply to all religions. There should be freedom to teach religion, I am not saying it should be banned. Religion is not Science and I do not think not teaching it would undermine the foundations of society. One might argue, however, that religious differences undermine society take a hard look around you. Religious extremism is on the rise is it not? Humanism can provide foundations and values without fear of some kind of retribution from god to create compliance with law and values. You can believe whatever nonsense you like but it has no place in schools or in Social Work. All religions are founded upon ignorance and superstition. We may well be a Christian Country but over 50% hold no religious faith. Science has validity religion does not.

      • Eyes wide shut November 1, 2017 at 10:03 pm #

        A man called bourse:
        So if I was a Christian, Hindu, Sikh etc service user how would I feel about your comment in the public domain ?

        ‘All religions are founded upon ignorance and superstition.’

        How would I work with you and feel respected and valued knowing this is a view you hold about me ???

        Are you any different from this guy?

      • Kag November 2, 2017 at 7:47 am #

        Man those are your views the way ngole made his. Should you be suspended?

  5. Michele Winter November 1, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    Such a lazy argument from the Christian Legal Centre citing ‘political correctness’. This has nothing to do with PC. This is about a social work student flagrantly flouting social work values and ethics and then reacting in a totally arrogant way. Not someone I want to welcome into our profession. Not someone I would feel comfortable with working with vulnerable service users. A good decision made.

  6. Paul Bennett November 1, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

    Felix has the right to express his religious views around homosexuality- which incidentally are only held by fundamentalist Christians and certainly not by those who believe Jesus to be accepting and loving towards all. However the social work principles of non judgementalism, respect, understanding of the continuum of sexuality, all should challenge his views. If he believes that being gay is morally wrong I suggest that it would prejudice his chance to work with vulnerable people in a social work role. I cannot argue against the ruling.

    • Garfield Hunt November 1, 2017 at 5:27 pm #

      It’s absolutel naivety to suggest that such views are only held by ‘fundamentalist’ Christians. I belonged to a church for many years and many of my acquaintances would not describe themselves as such (they would regard themselves as progressive if anything) but they would totally agree with this guy’s views. It’s not as simple to talk about it in terms of ‘we’ and ‘them’. Homophobia exits in many different formats and cuts across every social, political and religious group; none are exempt.

      • marilyn haughton November 3, 2017 at 8:20 am #

        I totally agree with this comment. However I also believe that we can all have views that certain acts are ‘a sin’ but it does not stop us from caring about and being able to work with ‘the sinner’. If this was the case Probation workers, Youth Offending Teams, Doctors, Surgeons, Therapists, Family Workers, those working with sex offenders etc etc would not be able to do their jobs. Surely we can think an act is sinful but still love the the sinner? Of course I understand that we live in an era of contradications eg we have the right to privacy and free speech when in practise this is often not the case. Felix has a right to express his views however, my concern would be that at his level of his training he didnt refrain from posting them on social media. Surely these situations are discussed in social work training? I am not a supporter of Felix’s views but feel that the decision is not as cut and dried as it seems.

        • Stuart November 13, 2017 at 10:19 pm #

          I don’t want to receive social work despite being ‘a sinner’, I want to receive it regardless of how the social worker’s religion has taught them to think and from someone who I am confident does not look on me as a sinner.

          I don’t want to be patronised for being ‘a sinner’ anymore than another person wants to be patronised for (e.g.) being a wheelchair user.

          At one level it’s hilarious to see how worked up people can get in an online discussion which isn’t going to change the decision of the court but on the other hand I can’t be the only person here who has lost friends or family to murderer driven by religion & religious hatred.

          I think I will be safe from the HCPC in stating that my experiences have led me to a deep hatred of religion-based hatred. Being anti-gay comes within that now just as it did in nazi Germany.

          Well done the court, but shame on the university – not for ejecting that student but for letting him on the course to start with!!
          Where was their selection process?? Or were they just too keen to get another year’s tuition fees??

    • bettyboo November 2, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

      Paul Bennett, excuse me, but Judaism and Islam also teach the same thing – not just fundamental Christians – again shocking ignorance and arrogance.

  7. Robert McGechan November 1, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    This was a completely correct decision, how could he ever have acted as a social worker with views like this. I am certain the same would have happened if he was muslim or of any other faith and expressed the same views!

  8. Nick M November 1, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    I am certainly not condoning this gentleman’s comments that were wholly inappropriate. However is his conduct really front page news?? Is this a scoop or was it a lean publication window. There is ample wrong in the practice/attitude of many Social Workers, so can we perhaps dig a little deeper in our research and associated journalism.

    Perhaps start with the robustness of University interviews/vetting so as to wean out applicants who retain such views?

    • AM November 2, 2017 at 8:41 am #

      He has created his own publicity by engaging in a legal challenge. Had he been less arrogant he would have accepted the judgement and gone quietly away.
      Agree with you on the vetting process. Maybe late in the day but a good decision by the University nonetheless.

      • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 8:32 am #

        The Christian Legal Centre can take credit for the publicity, seemingly using Felix to further their cause and profile.

        What I don’t understand is why Community Care are reporting this a full week after it was covered in the national press. It’s not as if the article had more depth and in fact a key point was missed out in Felix’s expressed support for a US registrar who refused to undertake gay marriages.

        This was critical as it gave the strongest suggestion he would discrimate in his role. Would be helpful if Community Care could comment on the delay

        • Luke Stevenson
          Luke Stevenson November 3, 2017 at 9:49 am #

          Hi Winmor, Luke from Community Care here.

          In response to your comment about a missing piece of information about Felix’s expressed support for a US registrar, that is in the second paragraph of the story.

          “Felix Ngole was removed from a master’s social work degree at Sheffield University last year following an internal fitness to practise process, triggered by numerous Facebook posts he made defending Kim Davis, an American registrar who was jailed for refusing to give gay couples marriage licenses on grounds of faith.”

          On us covering it after the national press, we decided to wait and read the court judgment in full before writing a story and publishing it, as we did not attend the hearing itself and wanted to see the full picture for ourselves.

          Kind regards,

          Luke

          • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

            Thanks Luke. Sorry for the miss on the Kim Davis thing

    • Jonathan Ritchie November 4, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      It is illegal to discriminate against people for their beliefs. Don’t you understand this?

  9. Who knows whats out there November 1, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    Seemingly this person lacks understanding of the impact of his views (stated on a public domain, no less) and their perceived impact on his social work practice.

    Unsure however as to why CC felt it necessary to post his picture as I’m not aware of this being the case with numerous others who have been ‘struck off’ etc – was it not enough for CC.co.uk that this individual was expelled?

    Then we observe the usual ill-informed comments from individuals relating to science and religion. I would have thought social workers criticising others would present their own views in a more considered way.

    In case people have forgotten their school studies, science is essentially the systematic study of the world around us. People refer to ‘science’ (also commonly using it bluntly and arrogantly as a means of bashing religion) as if it was a concrete concept – in an age where even astronomers have had their previous understanding of the universe completely shaken. Science and religion aren’t detached from each other – unless of course you hold extreme atheist or extreme religious views.

    • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 8:36 am #

      His picture has been widely circulated because this story was covered extensively by the national press last week which included his photo. Community Care bit late to the party unfortunately

  10. JJ November 2, 2017 at 12:04 am #

    Very unfair decision. He has a right to hold beliefs. Many social workers will come from religious backgrounds or non religious where they hold personal beliefs which dine in any way interfere with their work. He did not say he “hated” gay people it would not work with them. I’m a Christian. I’m a Social Worker. A good one . my religious views are the source of my wish to help people not a burden is barrier. Shame on the political correctness lobby and this is attacking someone’s right to hold personal views. Very angry at seeing this discrimination as we are meant to not discriminate towards anyone. Gay OR Christian. People we work with all have individual views ,that’s life and reality. They would not expect anything different from social workers as long as we treat everyone fairly

    • bettyboo November 2, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

      I’m totally with you on this JJ.

      • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 8:46 am #

        Please be aware that Felix had made his comments partially in the context of expressing support for a US registrar who was denying gay people their right to marry. Therefore his view DID indicate he may not work with gay people in a way that respected their right to a fair, legal service

  11. Smacker November 2, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    I get the point about it being detrimental to his need for inclusive social work practice but fear the day that the court of morality and the views of the majority will make us all think the same and punish us if we don’t.

  12. Alex November 2, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

    No-one is saying that he doesn’t have the right to hold these views (regressive as they may be) and of course there are plenty of excellent social workers who have a strong religious faith. The problem is that he made a morality judgement about a legally protected group of people, protected because of the discrimination they routinely face, on a public forum. When challenged about this, he refused to engage in any reflection about the impact that making public statements of that kind might have on those who require social worker support or on the reputation of the profession he had chosen to follow. The university was not seeking to force him to change his view, but simply to reflect on the impact that it could have on his professional practice and on the impact of public statements like this on the experience that LGBTQ groups have of the social work profession. Instead, he chose to double down and behave defensively, qualities that in the history of our profession have time and again caused damage to service users, with sometimes fatal consequences.

    Also, to the commenter above drawing casual links between homosexuality and rape/paedophilia/murder, that is a lazy and deeply damaging stereotype you’re propagating there and it’s not ok.

    • Winmor November 3, 2017 at 8:47 am #

      Hear hear on all counts

  13. Brian S. Waldron November 3, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    I am black, a Christian and I work in social care. I cannot support this gentleman’s stance on homosexuality. It is clearly judgemental and discriminatory and therefore completely at odds with social care and social work. I am sure he would be none to pleased if a racist wrote demonising remarks about black people.
    We must deliver our services and carry out our duties non judgementaly and without prejudice. Equalities is a package. We don’t cherry pick the bits we agree with and discard the the bits we don’t like. This man was clearly training for the wrong profession. I am not sure what profession would accept his views.

    • Stuart November 13, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

      And therein, Brian, you encapsuate everything anyone needs to know.

      Congratulations on your precision and succinctness.

  14. Jonathan Ritchie November 4, 2017 at 11:35 am #

    “The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
    – George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 1

  15. Helen M November 6, 2017 at 10:15 pm #

    Social work was founded on Christian principles, yet anyone adhering to the Christian faith today will find themselves on the wrong side of social work’s core values. The same goes for anyone who practices the other monotheistic faiths, Islam and Judaism.

    The chances are that anyone who seriously follows any of these faiths (usually referred to as fundamentalists, or similar) will believe that at least some of the issues such as homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, abortion and a whole host of other things, are ‘sins’.

    As a Christian Felix will be exhorted to ‘go out and preach the gospel’, and that means telling people they are lost in sin and need to repent. As a social worker he is told it’s OK to believe what he wants as long as he doesn’t tell anyone about it. It’s a challenge he has to accept to be a social worker.

    Yet non-followers of monotheistic faiths may still have spiritual beliefs, such as those based in Eastern religions, including Feng Shui, meditation, astrology, and even mindfulness (much of modern psychology, and particularly mindfulness, is rooted in Buddhism), and are perfectly at liberty to promote those beliefs.

    So it’s OK for a social worker to recommend hypnotherapy and mindfulness to a Christian or Muslim or Jewish service user, even though the person to whom they are recommending these things follows a faith that teaches these things are ‘not of God’ (actually, worse, they are specifically ‘of the devil’). It’s not OK for a Christian, Muslim or Jew to defend the teachings of their faith. And if they do they are likely to be ridiculed for holding ‘non-scientific’ beliefs. It is unfortunate that we are not able to show the same tolerance with our colleagues as with our service users.

    Ultimately though, in this case, I believe the decision was the right one. As social workers we have to work with people from all faiths and none, from all backgrounds, and from all cultures and ethnicities. It is our responsibility to be independent of influence in our work, as far as we can, and to challenge our prejudices. And that means having a strong awareness of our personal public image and how that might be perceived. Which is singularly what Felix has apparently been unable to take on board.

  16. Sal November 7, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

    Helen M, you lost me after your first line, speaking all of that double-speak, on one hand you correctly say Christian principals founded social work, and therefore this will place Christians on the wrong side of the profession. I don’t have to live the same experience as my service users to want to help them and have empathy (i.e. engage in substance misuse & be in unstable relationships), maybe you feel you do?

    I find it amazing that people like you, expect Christians not to follow the bible or believe what it says. I mean, after all why be a Christian, or should I follow the ‘pick and mix variety’ (i.e. believe the good bits and leave the rest) – Sort of think that would make me a major hypocrite.

Leave a Reply to Eyes wide shut Click here to cancel reply.