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The Case of the Politically Incorrect Student

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Tim Dieppe comments on the case of the politically incorrect student, after attending the hearing of Felix Ngole’s case in the High Court this week. Felix was expelled from his course at Sheffield University in 2016 after posting comments that in essence were found to be politically incorrect. Tim discusses the implications for restricting expressing Biblical views on sexual ethics that this case entails. He highlights arguments made in court that there is a ‘win-win’ option which is a lot better than crushing the rights of Christians to express their views.


I attended most of the hearing of Felix Ngole’s case in the High Court this week. Felix was expelled from his course at Sheffield University in 2016 after postings on his personal Facebook page were investigated.

In essence, his comments were found to be politically incorrect and thus not acceptable for a student on his course to express. Felix is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre and the hearing was a judicial review of the university’s decision.

 

Facebook discussion

Felix had engaged in a Facebook discussion in 2015 prompted by a news story about Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis who objected to issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. Felix expressed his Christian beliefs on the issue and argued 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". He was asked where in the Bible it says that same-sex marriage is wrong. He quoted various passages to demonstrate this.

 

Investigation

Nearly two months later, Felix received an email from a university official informing him that his comments were being investigated. It is extraordinary to think that a British university would consider that it is within their remit to ‘investigate’ social media posts of students. What kind of Orwellian world are we living in? Felix did not post on Facebook as a representative of the university, his posts were merely made in a personal capacity. Nevertheless, the University of Sheffield decided to launch an investigation.

Later Felix was interviewed by university ‘investigators’. Felix explained that he had worked with homosexual people in different contexts, and that his faith does not allow him to discriminate against those in same sex relationships. One of the investigators stated:

“You have not tried to hide anything and I thank you for your honesty and integrity. I don’t think you could behave in a discriminatory way, however, you could inadvertently discriminate. The person on the receiving end of your comments could be discriminated.”

Throughout the proceedings no evidence of any actual discrimination that has ever taken place has yet been found. You can be sure that the university and their lawyers will have made ‘investigations’ to try to find some though.

 

Removed from his course

A committee was set up by the university to establish whether a breach of regulations had taken place. This panel was chaired by Professor Jacqueline Marsh who it transpires is a long-standing and active campaigner for LGBT rights. This conflict of interests was not disclosed either by the Professor or by the university, raising issues of apparent bias and breach of natural justice. In February 2016 this committee made the decision to remove Felix from his course of study.

This removal prevents Felix from continuing his studies and from pursuing his chosen career in social work. In fact, it is worse than that. Felix is required to disclose that he was removed from a university course whatever job he applies for. He will forever more be treated as a non-conforming citizen because of his Facebook posts in support of Biblical sexual ethics.

 

Whither free speech?

The defence hinged on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which expressly protects freedom of expression. A wide range of highly offensive and provocative speech has been defended by Article 10 in the courts before. There mere fact that offence is taken is not sufficient to override this principle of freedom of expression.

In court, counsel for the university agreed that Felix’s right to free speech had been impinged. She argued that “the claimant could have taken up an alternative career in which there is no restriction on freedom of speech.” The university therefore takes the position that expressing Biblical sexual ethics on social media should be a bar from certain careers, including social work. No matter that no discrimination has taken place. As barrister Paul Diamond argued in court, this is the beginning of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy if you are an evangelical Christian in the UK.

Paul Diamond argued that surely “views expressed in the Bible should be worthy of respect in a democratic society.” In this case, rather than being respected, the university found expression of Biblical views worthy of removing Felix from his studies and his chosen career.

 

There is a ‘win – win’ solution

Paul Diamond argued that the result of the university’s decision is a clear breach of Felix’s rights. Surely there is a better option here. In a free and democratic society, people should be allowed to live according to their wishes and desires, whilst at the same time people should be allowed to express views which others might disagree with. This is the ‘win-win’ option. This option was not chosen by the university. They instead chose a route of oppression. As Paul Diamond argued: “If the rights of Christians are crushed, this wrong will be greater than the wrong it seeks to address.”

 

The banning of Biblical views

It is an extraordinary thing to sit in the High Court and listen to highly educated and well-trained lawyers debating whether someone who expresses Biblical views should be allowed to pursue his chosen career. One thinks of how the Bible has been the foundation of so many of the laws that this court adjudicates. There was a Bible in the courtroom sitting there ready for people to swear oaths on. Yet lawyers were arguing whether expressing Biblical views should be a bar on certain careers.

I also find it extraordinary that the university would go to such lengths and spend so much money to prevent Felix from continuing his studies. Why are they so afraid of Paul’s ‘win-win’ solution? They appear intent on banning expression of views in the same Bible that formed the moral and spiritual foundation of our society.

 

The politically incorrect Bible

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this case. Basic freedoms in our society are at stake. It is not really about the politically incorrect student, it is about the politically incorrect Bible. Bishop Ashenden is right to point out the parallels with 1930’s Germany. This case is about state oppression of Christians. It shows the true intolerance of those who argue for tolerance. We await the judgment. In the meantime, your prayers and support (including on social media while we still can!) are appreciated.

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