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.
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.
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.