Yesterday, I shared the following link on my Facebook page: “Christian student takes university to court for expulsion from social work course over views on sexuality.” The article began: “Felix Ngole says that Theresa May’s comments that “we should treasure the strong tradition that we have in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech… We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith” is not a reality he has experienced, after being dismissed by the University of Sheffield for sharing his views about the biblical view of sexuality. A Christian student who was removed from a social work course after expressing his views on marriage and sexual ethics is challenging his university’s decision to dismiss him. In a rare legal challenge, Felix Ngole will tomorrow (TUE 25 APR) ask the High Court to grant a judicial review of the university’s decision. Mr Ngole was removed from a social work course at the University of Sheffield after he made comments on his personal Facebook page in support of biblical teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. An internal complaints body found that the University had acted fairly when it dismissed Mr Ngole”, giving rise to an “interesting” exchange of views.
Those who know me will not be surprised to know that I support Mr. Ngole and regret that what we now see is yet another example where freedom of speech and respectfully expressing an honestly held opinion is wrongly punished, having in the past raised a number of examples of comparable occurrences and fearing the trend will continue. Some of the actions we are currently seeing, like shutting down hate speech that isn’t, censoring fake news that isn’t and monitoring and controlling the Internet by the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter are further examples that what we have long cherished as part of living in a democratic society can no longer be taken for granted. While I quite get it if Mr Ngole’s actions had detrimentally impacted on this ability to do his job and treat whoever he has to deal with fairly, but there is no evidence that this is the case in this case. I also accept there are times free speech may have to be sacrificed if it puts life in danger – an obvious example is shouting “fire” in a crowded building when there is no fire or betraying confidences when it puts in jeopardy those vulnerable persons that confidentiality agreements are meant to protect.
I also feel there is a degree of hypocrisy or at least lack of even handedness when one person’s free speech is punished and another’s goes unchecked, because certain people who have the power to dictate deem this is how it is going to be. I recall a couple of years back a housing officer being demoted from his position for disagreeing with gay marriage on his Facebook page. I have seen repeated instances, also on Facebook, of people who are in similar positions having a go at those they deem as being perpetrators of hate speech, or who associate with such, when there is nothing of the kind happening and those being accused are not only expressing their view but warning others of the consequences of certain actions or lack of actions if wrongdoing is not challenged. Who has the right to deem what speech is unacceptable when those who say things that some others, too often linked to the self-appointed, liberal, elitist, spirit of the age thought police, take exception to, are thereby penalized? Doing so is the beginnings of a slippery slope and further along the path toward Orwellian Fascism.
One of the reasons I find myself under fire sometimes is because I put my head over the parapet and lay myself open to be fired upon. But if I don’t do it, how are people going to know the truth that will set them free. Besides which, I am not far from being dead and as I am “retired” can’t be sacked from a job I don’t have, unlike Mr. Ngole and the hapless housing officer. For the record, in my voluntary capacity I deal with folk of all types. I do not discriminate and try to be fair to all I deal with. The night shelter I manage, for example, takes volunteers of all ages, sexes, sexualities, (dis)abilities, races and religions and never once has any of this been a problem. We are there merely to serve our homeless guests. And the same goes for our guests – the only thing we ask is they obey basic house rules. I adopt the “true, necessary, kind” principle when it comes to exercising my free speech, yet say what needs saying.
I will continue to identify and challenge instances of injustice, like those detailed above, when people are punished when innocently exercising their natural right of free speech, and within certain constraints, as also given above, I will continue to support those speaking freely on matters they deem important, even if these happen to offend the sensibilities of those who disagree and I may even disagree profoundly myself, because if I don’t do so I will aid in consigning my fellow human being to tyranny when what they need is liberation. Finally, I want to say: I agree with Voltaire!