I was going to write something about the case of Kristie Higgs, who has lost her case for unfair dismissal against the school at which she used to work. You can read about the case here. But, readying myself to do that, I see that David Robertson has got there before me and, to be honest, I don’t have a great deal more to add. I would encourage you to read David’s article here.
Rather than try to add anything, let me just echo some of the key points and maybe comment on those a little. The key phrase that sends a chill down one’s spine is this:
The judgement concludes that the 44-year-old’s dismissal was not related to the Christian beliefs she shared on social media but rather “the result of a genuine belief on the part of the school that she had committed gross misconduct”.
“Although not stated as clearly or simply as this, the act of which we concluded Mrs Higgs was accused and eventually found guilty was posting items on Facebook that might reasonably lead people who read her posts to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic,” said Employment Judge Reed.
In other words, as David Robertson absolutely rightly points out, Mrs Higgs has been sacked, not for any belief of her own, but because of other people’s beliefs despite their correlation with reality.
Just to be clear, Mrs Higgs was dismissed on the ground of one complaint against her. A complaint that arose from comments she had made on her private facebook page, with no reference to her employer, which carried her maiden name not her professional name.
The tribunal were quite clear that Mrs Higgs’ views were neither transphobic nor homophobic. Nor was she dismissed because of her Christian views on these issues. She was dismissed because – it was argued – others who read her posts ‘would see it differently’. In other words, some people – who are wrong about what she actually believes – might assume that what she believes, based on their errant reading of what she said, is trans- and homo- phobic. As David Robertson rightly states:
An anonymous complainant went to the headteacher and described her posts as “homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community”. The headteacher is then reported to have asked the complainant to find more offensive posts. Kristie was subsequently investigated, suspended and fired. The panel which investigated her, said her views were “pro-Nazi” and she was told to “keep your religion out of it” when she tried to defend herself.
According to the tribunal, her dismissal “was the result of a genuine belief on the part of the school that she had committed gross misconduct”. Kristie was not dismissed for her beliefs but rather because of the beliefs of the school.
He goes on to rightly note:
The tribunal states that Mrs Higgs was found guilty of posting items on Facebook that “might reasonably lead people who read her posts to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic”. Yet that same tribunal admitted that Mrs Higgs was not transphobic or homophobic, nor did they state that the posts themselves were transphobic or homophobic – just that some people might think they were
And so, it would seem, Mrs Higgs was sacked because (potentially) some people might (wrongly) think that her views were a problem. Clearly, the school believed her views were a problem and, bizarrely, the judge upheld that belief even though they were clear there was, in fact, nothing wrong with her views at all!
This is troubling enough. That people can be summarily dismissed for expressing views that are not themselves hateful but that someone, somewhere might believe they are so. But, again as rightly pointed out by David Robertson, that won’t really be the case. The people who are happy to offend my Christian views and say the most hateful things about me, my church and blasphemous things about my God would not be summarily dismissed from public life if I were offended by what they say. As it happens, I don’t think they should be either! But just as I don’t think such people should face the sack because they may offend me, nor do I think Christians should be sacked because others may be offended at our beliefs. And all the more so when, in fact, secular courts insist there isn’t actually anything offensive about the belief being expressed!
But that is the ruling that has been received. The offence of some groups can lead to legal action, even summary dismissal, whilst the offence of others can be roundly ignored. It means that ‘approved’ groups may seek legal vengeance (and I do mean vengeance, for this is often actively vindictive) for any perceived (and I do, very much mean, perceived) slight against them, whilst others must endure slurs and hateful comment with good grace. And, of course, if they dare to respond, may find that they too are dismissed for daring to speak back in a way that might be perceived as – even if in reality it is not – hateful.
You don’t need to be a Christian to see the problem with all this. If Christians are not allowed to express their views and beliefs, even in private, without facing the sack – if you do not speak out in favour of the Christian right to speak because you don’t share or hold those views – you cannot be surprised if, one day, the views you think are right-on today are soon the banned, sackable hate-speech of tomorrow. We already have such a moral tale unfolding before our very eyes. Those who were the doyennes of radical left-wing activism and academia – some of whom fought hard for such recognition of approved groups and special status – are now, themselves, facing the reality of what they set in motion. The radical views they believed to be progressive are now cast as regressive hate that should not be uttered either in public or private.
Some may point to the church and argue that this is precisely the same issue for them. Well, that might stick if you were part of the Anglican ascendancy from the Reformation up to around the 1920s. But if you are a Baptist (like me), or most other Christian denominations, not only have we had no part in all that but we were on exactly the receiving end of such discrimination – locked out of universities, unable to hold office, test acts, sackings, inability to freely say what we believed – and have, historically, made these arguments too. So, this is not anything new from us. This is the same 400-year-old argument we have been making since the first Baptist Church sprung up in England.
But even the Anglicans are in the same boat as us these days and being part of the established church will not help. Because the established Church of England is no longer the dominant ideological force in the country. That belongs to those in different, privileged and approved groups. The irony being, those who once cast stones in the direction of the established church because of this sort of approach to certain secular ideologies have now turned themselves into the Archbishops seeking conformity with their own position. All who do not subscribe to their own book of common worship will simply be removed from public life.