Demoting Christian over Facebook comments was “over-reaction”, says lawyer
A lawyer representing a Christian who was penalised for expressing his views on same-sex ‘marriage’ on Facebook strongly criticised Trafford Housing Trust in court last week.
Adrian Smith was demoted from his managerial post and had his pay cut by 40 per cent after stating on his private Facebook page that conducting same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremonies in churches was “an equality too far”.
In a two-day hearing which ended last Friday (19 October), the lawyer representing Mr Smith, Hugh Tomlinson QC, argued that the Trust had breached Mr Smith’s employment contract in interfering with his right to freedom of speech and that its response was “a huge and extraordinary over-reaction”.
Mr Smith made the remarks on Facebook in response to the BBC news headline in February last year “Gay marriages get the go ahead”.
A lesbian colleague, Julia Stavordale (56), who was able to view the comments as an accepted Facebook friend, subsequently asked Mr Smith whether this meant he disapproved, to which he said:
“I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.
“The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the State wants to offer civil marriages to the same-sex then that is up to the State; but the State shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience”.
A different colleague, Stephen Lynch, who was not a Facebook friend of Mr Smith’s, raised a complaint with the trust’s head of equality and diversity, Helen Malone.
Mr Lynch was supported by Miss Stavordale who said that the trust should “throw the book” at him and that he was “blatantly homophobic”.
Mike Corfield, an assistant director for customers at the Trust, found Mr Smith guilty of gross misconduct and decided to demote him from his position as manager to money support advisor.
Mr Smith faced a corresponding pay cut from £35,000 to £21,396 a year and was given a written warning stating that he had only kept his job because of his long service of some 18 years at the Trust.
Mr Corfield said that since Mr Smith had referred to himself as ‘housing manager’ in his Facebook profile, those viewing his page could interpret the remarks as “trust policy”.
Mr Smith had also expressed his support for Tottenham Hotspur football club and his liking for “toast and jam” on Facebook.
Judge Mr Justice Michael Briggs asked a manager at the Trust, Deborah Gorman, whether Mr Smith could also be penalised for offending Manchester United fans after he posted a comment saying “well done Spurs”.
The Judge also asked Ms Gorman whether Mr Smith’s comments on toast and jam could also be construed as trust policy.
A judgement on the case is expected to be released at a later date.
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