Court Cites Free Speech in Ruling that Student May be Expelled for Quoting the Bible on Facebook
Last Friday, a British court ruled that a college could expel a student for posting his position against same-sex marriage on Facebook by quoting the Bible. Tragically, the court cited free speech concerns in the ruling, but ultimately decided that a "perceived discriminatory intent" rendered the student's speech unacceptable.
"It is a clear attempt by liberal elites to silence anything that has to do with traditional Christian beliefs," Felix Ngole, the expelled student, told PJ Media on Tuesday. "Free speech can only be what it is if you agree with everything they agree with. They will come hard at you if you share conservative views — that is a taboo."
Ngole was studying for a master of arts in social work at Sheffield University. In 2015 he made comments supporting Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. He wrote that "same sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not. It is God's words and man's sentiments would not change His words." Ngole also quoted various Bible passages to support this position.
About two months later, the student received an email from a university official, informing him that his Facebook comments were under investigation, according to Christian Concern. A team later interviewed Ngole, and then a panel chaired by LGBT activist Professor Jackie Marsh removed him from his coursework. Last Friday, the court upheld the university's decision after a two-day hearing.
In the ruling, Deputy High Court Judge Rowena Collins Rice noted that the university's "investigatory team accepted that Felix was fully entitled to his religious beliefs, and had acted with honesty and integrity." Collins Rice said Ngole's views were not at issue, but his public posting of them, which "may have caused offence to some individuals."
The university and the court agreed that Ngole's freedom of speech had been impaired.
"Freedom of expression is an important right. Exercising that right to express the content of deeply held religious views deserves respect in a democratic and plural society, nowhere more so than in a university," Collins Rice noted. "Freedom of religious discourse is a public good of great importance and seriousness."
The judge even accepted that the university's sanction of Ngole "was indeed severe."
Even so, she ultimately ruled in favor of the university — due to a perceived risk of damage from Ngole's comments. "It was how they could be accessed and read by people who would perceive them as judgemental, incompatible with service ethos, or suggestive of discriminatory intent," Collins Rice argued.
"But 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," the judge concluded.