Another fine case ... or two

Christian Concern claims that a health service trustee was punished “simply for holding a lawful view” and that a student dismissed from social work training was “severely penalised for holding, manifesting and expressing views based on Christian beliefs.” Many media outlets have been reporting these claims.

“My court case proves Christian beliefs are being censored by our government” was the heading over the student’s story on a leading Christian broadcaster’s site.

Censorship? Violated rights? Really?

Richard Page was both a magistrate and a board member of the National Health Service (NHS) body responsible for mental health services across Kent. In 2014 he was one of three magistrates considering a case of adoption. which he opposed on the grounds that adoption is never acceptable unless by a heterosexual couple. The other magistrates, and the clerk of the court, complained. Mr Page was issued with a reprimand by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, saying that, if unable to consider a case only on the evidence and the law, he should have recused himself.

He then gave an interview about all this to a national newspaper, which also linked him to the NHS. The chair of the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership NHS Trust – Mr Ling - asked to meet his fellow board member about the implications for the Trust. First though, Mr Page appeared in a Kent radio phone-in discussing his views on adoption and same-sex relationships. Mr Page promised Mr Ling that in future he would at least notify the Trust before further media appearances. But he did not keep this promise, and went on to appear in high-profile broadcasts. His media activity led to his removal from the magistracy.

Mr Ling decided to ask a Termination of Appointments Panel to rule on whether Mr Page should continue to be a board member, considering the failure to keep the trust informed of media work or consider the impact of publicity on the board’s relations with staff and patients. Ruling against Mr Page, the panel said the “of particular importance” was Mr Page’s “inability or unwillingness to distinguish between his personal views and what it was appropriate as a non-executive director with a high profile” to “say to the media.”

An employment tribunal rejected his claim to be a victim of discrimination and harassment. It found he lost his position not because of his religious views, but “because he accepted invitations to appear in the press and on national television without informing the Trust when he had been expressly told to inform them.” Mr Page, supported by Christian Concern, says this is a false distinction: a right to hold a religious view necessarily brings entitlement to express that view in public, regardless of the wishes of an employer.

Felix Ngole was working as a teacher when he received a prophecy, through his wife, that he would be used by God to change government policy in the UK. Later he entered the two-year university Master’s course that leads to qualification as a social worker. Much of this course, especially in the second year, consists of supervised practice. Students understand that “MA Social Work is a programme of professional training and that you are expected to behave in a professional manner in the University, on placement and in your personal life (including use of social media),” ensuring that “behaviour does not damage public confidence” in social work and that social media posts are not offensive.

At the start of his second year, Mr Ngole joined in a discussion about same-sex marriage on the Facebook page of a secular US broadcaster. In a series of entries, he quoted the familiar passage from Leviticus concerning same-sex relations, warned that such relations were abominable to God, and added that the US constitution had been “hi-jacked by the devil.” The university investigated his “fitness to practice” - and found no readiness from Mr Ngole to consider whether his social media postings were appropriate for a professional social worker, and no indication that he might not do it again. Accordingly he was removed from the course, though he was offered a chance to continue on a different course without the professional qualification. At this point Christian Concern “miraculously” became involved and started action leading to judicial review of the fairness of the decision. Mr Ngole sees all this as a fulfilment of the prophecy given through his wife.

His case, Mr Ngole says on Premier Radio’s website, is “about Christians being able to take part in a lawful debate”. But it’s not.

Like Mr Page’s, it is about the proper public expression of controversial opinions by people who choose, professionally, to carry positions of significant responsibility for state business. Mr Ngole’s barrister, Paul Diamond, accepted that some of the language used "might confuse a secular mind" but this "identified the speech as operating on a non-secular, or theological, plane ... this was speech about sin and redemption, propositions of religious significance."

Quite so. So why choose, while holding a job with significant duties for state services for a largely non-believing clientele, to publish such statements in secular news media? Is it really sound Christian witness knowingly to ignore agreements made with colleagues and supervisors, and make announcements that vulnerable clients – ‘confused’ in mind and unaware of the theological context - will find threatening and insulting?

An Anglican bishop has warned of “streams of cases brought to make a political point.” Those who accept the victim role in a succession of ‘miraculously’ lost legal cases must be aware that this drama has a political purpose.

Christian Concern’s Head of Public Theology, Dr Joseph Boot, explains that the modern state – with its “confiscatory” taxation, welfare and social services - is “counterfeiting the word of God” and will “invariably persecute the family and church.” According to this view, Christians have “a religious duty to resist” this state and expose the “cultural Marxism” that underpins it.

Censorship? Victimisation? Persecution? Or political theatre devised to advance extreme Religious Right ideology?

12th December 2017

Sources: Employment Tribunal Case No: 2302433/2016: Mr R. Page (claimant) and NHS Trust Development Authority (respondent), judgment dated 10th October 2017

England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decision reference (2017) EWHC 2669 (Admin): Ngole (Claimant) v University of Sheffield (defendant) and Health and Care Professions Council (Intervener). Judgment dated 27th October 2017

Felix Ngole: My court case proves Christian beliefs are being censored by our government (Premier Christianity, 27th October 2017)

The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society, Joseph Boot, Wilberforce Institute, 2016.

Christian Concern statements from its website 28th November, 2017

See also Harry Farley discuss the Ngole case on Christian Today

Richard Page

Media profile: Richard Page

Felix Ngole Prophecy: Felix Ngole

Ball/Carey: why a serial abuser was allowed back to ministry

A serial sex abuser was able to return to his ministry, including work in schools, because, in the eyes of the church, his ‘religious stature’ made him ‘incapable of truly abusive behaviour.’

Dame Moira Gibb’s newly published report shows that Bishop Peter Ball (pictured, right) used his position as an Anglican priest and (supposedly) Franciscan monk to carry out abuse of boys and young men on a vast scale, often claiming justification in ‘spiritual practices’. A retired policeman and ordained priest was commissioned by Ball’s supporters to investigate with a view to vindicating him. After extensive work he 'came to the conclusion that Ball had been involved in abusing … very many young men who passed through his care.’

In 1992, his practices well known and attested in Church circles, Peter Ball accepted a police caution for indecent assault and resigned his bishopric rather than face trial. Soon he was agitating for reinstatement in his ministry. In this he was aided by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who funnelled money to him, declared him ‘basically innocent’ and ‘played the lead role in enabling Ball to return to the ministry.’ He sanctioned Ball’s return to schools work, so that Ball worked in up to 25 schools after his police caution. In 2000, Lord Carey continued to ‘stand by’ this ‘wonderful priest and bishop.’

How could this happen? Dame Moira suggests two factors. One was that the church was confused about homosexuality, condoning secrecy and failing to distinguish between consensual, legal relationship and illegal abuse.

The other was a ‘view that a person of Ball’s religious stature was incapable of truly abusive behaviour.’  

In 2010 Lord Carey confronted the Supreme Court with a demand that special religious courts should consider cases ‘engaging religious rights’ as secular judges failed to understand Christianity as the ‘highest development of spirituality’ (see The Jesus Candidate, page 47). Lord Justice Laws responded that the Archbishop wanted to take a ‘road to theocracy.’

The Church of England must be congratulated on publishing Dame Moira’s frank exposure of its failings – revealing the dangers of the theocratic thinking that puts the church above the ordinary law of the land.

3rd July, 2017


Tim Farron resigns: 'I am a liberal to my fingertips but faith made me a suspect'

Tim Farron is stepping down as leader of the UK Liberal Democrat party, after gains in the recent general election resulted in a 12-member block in the new Parliament. In his resignation letter to Party members, he says that the media's 'constant questions about my Christian faith' left him 'torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.' As a liberal, he is 'passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things' but society does not seem ready to accept this, treating his faith as a 'matter of suspicion.' He concludes quoting the great hymn of Isaac Watts - only something 'so amazing, so divine' as Christ could have made him freely step down from leadership of the Party that, he says, 'I thoroughly love.'

For a comment see blog, 29th June 2017.

Tim Farron

Ashers: gay cake update
Ashers bakery and its directors discriminated unlawfully against LGBT people generally by refusing to ice a cake in support of the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland (NI) – so found the Province’s judges. In December 2016, the NI Appeal court heard final representations from the bakers and from the Province’s Attorney General, and refused them leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC).

But the court left it open for Ashers directors to seek their own appeal to UKSC. The Supreme Court will now hear the case in May 2018.

Meanwhile the NI employment specialist Legal Island has published an interview* on the Ashers case with Michael Wardlow, head of the NI Equality Commission. He answers judges’ criticism for failing to advise the bakers, saying that the Commission’s service is "not mediation" and that, once the aggrieved customer asked the Commission for help, advising the bakers would have created a "conflict of interest." The Commission, he says, receives some 3,000 requests a year to take on cases, of which about 60 are accepted because they have "strategic importance." He confirms that the Commission is actively working towards the "inevitable" legalisation of same-sex marriage in the Province.

In The Jesus Candidate blog , we argue that it is mistaken to see the bakers as victims of religious discrimination. Rather, the case is about political freedom – can the court-made concept of "associative discrimination" be used to compel a business to provide services to a political campaign against its will? This is the question we hope UKSC will be able to consider.

*Thanks to Fran Porter for bringing this to our attention

the gay cake

Inquiry examines ‘moral sources of the civic good’

Leading lawyers have announced a new inquiry to find the "moral sources of the civic good."*

The inquiry is run by a partnership of barristers in the Inner and Middle Temples, and scholars from Kings College, London. They seek to carry out the first recommendation of Living with Difference, the 2015 report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Political Life:

  • A national conversation should be launched across the UK by leaders of faith communities and ethical traditions to create a shared understanding of the fundamental values underlying public life. It would take place at all levels and in all regions. The outcome might be a statement of the principles and values which foster the common good, and which should underpin and guide public life.

According to the inquiry’s organisers:

  • The project will be helping communities to rediscover and renew the moral (re)sources offered by the major religious and philosophical traditions that inform British life; and so to renew their own identities as varied and valued parts of our nation. We will be promoting the cohesion that will make out of Britain’s communities a totality far greater than the sum of their often divergent and isolated parts.

The first consultation session was held in London in March 2017. Retired judge Lady Butler-Sloss, who chaired the Living with Difference commission, led the event, together with former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge. More events are planned for 2017

Lord Judge
After Christendom

The After Christendom book series, edited by Stuart Murray, is moving publisher.

Future titles will be published by the American firm of Wipf and Stock, replacing the UK publishing house Paternoster.

The series started in 2011 with Stuart’s book Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a strange new world. So far 11 titles have appeared, including Faith and Politics after Christendom by Jonathan Bartley, now co-leader of the UK Green Party, and Atheism after Christendom by the Cambridge academic Simon Perry. Future plans include Security after Christendom by the Exeter University central Asia expert John Heathershaw, and a revised edition of Post-Christendom.

Please contact us for more information about the series and previous titles.

Reading the bible after Christendom (2011), one of the titles in the series
by Lloyd Pietersen