Christian student expelled from social work course over views on marriage

Sheffield University

A Christian student has been removed from a university social work course after he made comments on his personal Facebook page in support of biblical teaching on marriage and sexual ethics.

Following a 'Fitness to Practise Committee' hearing at Sheffield University, second year Masters student Felix Ngole, 38, has been told that he has been "excluded from further study on a programme leading to a professional qualification" and is "no longer recognised as a University student."

Mr Ngole was told that, by posting his comments on Facebook, the Committee believed that he "may have caused offence to some individuals" and had "transgressed boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the Social Work profession." His action would have an effect on his "ability to carry out a role as a Social Worker," the Committee said.

Mr Ngole is appealing the decision and is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

If the decision is not overturned, it could prevent Mr Ngole from pursuing his vocation in social work.

'Bar to office'

Sheffield University Logo The University's decision to exclude him, effectively creates a "bar to office for Christians", Mr Ngole says, and amounts to "secret policing of Christian belief."

He says that he is "determined to challenge the decision because of its wider consequences and the huge issues of freedom of religion and freedom of expression that it raises."

"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," he adds. 

'In support of marriage'

Mr Ngole made the comments in question last September on his personal Facebook page, in connection with the case of Kim Davis, the marriage clerk from the US state of Kentucky, who expressed a conscientious objection to issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples.

Mr Ngole expressed support for Kim Davies' freedom and in the course of the discussion explained biblical teaching on sexual ethics.

Nearly two months later, he received an email from a university official telling him that his comments were being investigated and summoning him to a meeting the following Monday.

Following further meetings, he has now been told that the Faculty of Social Sciences Fitness to Practise Committee had ruled that he should be removed from the course. 

"Your student record will be terminated shortly and your library membership and University computer account withdrawn. You may wish to contact your funding body for advice on your financial position," he was told.

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'Who is monitoring these decisions?'

Mr Ngole said: “The way that I have been treated raises very serious issues about the way students in English universities are being censored in their views and beliefs.

“If the personal statements of students on their own social media pages, and amongst their own ‘friends’ are now to be used to judge whether they are 'fit and proper people' to serve in professions such as law, medicine, teaching and social work, then very serious questions need to be asked about the freedoms in the UK.

“A university is not the proper body to judge whether a potential student is a fitting person to join a professional body. That is for the professional body concerned.  If universities are now to scrutinise their student's social media accounts, then students should be warned about that at the very start of their studies, and should be given the opportunity to decide whether it is the sort of university they want to attend.

“If each university is making its own, arbitrary decisions, who is monitoring these decisions and how can students ensure that, across all universities, there is good, fair and equal assessment of such issues?

“However, there is a far more serious issue at stake.  Further education is a time when all students should be helped to explore their beliefs, through interaction and debate. If they are ‘censored’ from even sharing their ideas or beliefs as part of a discussion on Facebook then how can that happen?  Even the Soviet Union did not restrict students like this!

“If these sort of judgemental procedures were in place when David Cameron and other Cabinet ministers were in Oxford, and some were members of the Bullingdon Club, one wonders whether they would have been prevented from continuing their courses as well!

“The university claims my views are discriminatory  but I am the one being discriminated against because of my expression of Christian beliefs. I wonder whether the university would have taken any action if a Muslim student who believes in Shari’a law, with its teaching about women and homosexuality, had made moderate comments on his Facebook page. I don’t think so.”

'Christians neutered in the public arena'

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Ngole, said:

Andrea Williams “The university's treatment of Felix fundamentally violates its responsibilities under the Human Rights Act. The university has failed to protect his freedom of speech under Article 10 and his freedom of religion under Article 9. Students are entitled to discuss and debate their own personal views on their own Facebook page.

“Felix has worked with people who identify as homosexual, treating them with respect and not discriminating against them. What he shared on his Facebook page simply reflects biblical teaching on sexual behaviour. 

"He is not yet a social worker, and has never been asked to give any undertaking about expressing views in ways which might cause offence to others. He is not someone in a public position, but rather a student, who is entitled to express his views, especially ones shared by millions of people around the world.

"There is no evidence that Felix's views impacted his work, or that he was not a hard-working student who should qualify in due course.

“Sadly, this is yet another case of Christians being ‘neutered’ in the public arena, and of censorship of views.  We will help Felix fight this through the University's appeals process, and to Judicial Review if necessary."