During a weeklong hearing last month, Kristie Higgs argued that her dismissal by Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, amounted to religious discrimination but in its ruling, Bristol Employment Tribunal disagreed.
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 trans-phobic,”said Employment Judge Reed.
“That behaviour, the school felt, had the potential for a negative impact in relation to various groups of people, namely pupils, parents, staff and the wider community.”
Mrs Higgs was let go in January last year after sharing two Facebook posts in October 2018, one of which was a petition raising concern about Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), while the other was an article on transgender ideology in children’s books being used in American schools.
She was investigated by the school and subsequently dismissed after an anonymous individual complained about the posts.
The tribunal’s judgement determined that Mrs Higg’s Christian beliefs on gender and sexuality did not in themselves amount to homophobia or transphobia, but it ultimately agreed with Farmor’s concerns that those who read her Facebook posts would see differently and not simply regard them as Christian beliefs that had been expressed “in a temperate and rational way”.
The judgement does, however, uphold the right of individuals to hold Mrs Higgs’ beliefs.
It reads: “The belief that sex and gender are ‘set at birth’ may be upsetting to certain people but if freedom of speech and [freedom of thought, conscience and religion] only extended to expressions of belief that could upset no-one they would be worthless.”
It also questioned recent judgements in the cases of researcher Maya Forstater and Christian doctor David Mackereth, both of whom were sacked after criticising transgenderism and lost their legal challenges.
The judgement in Mrs Higgs’ case said that the conclusions reached on Forstater and Mackereth “would amount to a declaration that it is ‘open season’ on people that hold and express the beliefs in question – that they do not deserve protection. That seemed to us to be a strange and somewhat disturbing conclusion.”
Mrs Higgs is to appeal the tribunal’s decision.
“I am disappointed to read the tribunal’s ruling, but plan to appeal and continue to fight for justice,” she said.
“I strongly maintain that I lost my job because of my Christian beliefs, beliefs which our society does not appear to tolerate or even understand anymore.
“Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that I lost the job I loved because of my Christian beliefs. It’s hard to believe that the school would take one anonymous complaint and escalate it to all this.
“Where was the school’s tolerance and kindness to me? Where was the school’s attempt to understand my point of view?
“I shared these posts as a mother who was deeply concerned about the compulsory sex education being forced on my 9-year-old son at a Church of England primary school. These views were compared to that of a ‘pro-Nazi right wing extremist’, which is highly offensive to me and millions of Christians across the world.
“I have to continue to fight for justice so that no one else has to go through what I have. I want parents to have the freedom to bring their children up in line with their Christian beliefs, I want young children to be protected from this harmful ideology. Christians must also to be able to share their opinions and beliefs without fear of losing their jobs.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said the verdict was a blow to religious freedom.
“This judgment should concern all of us who care about the freedom to be a Christian believer in the UK,” she said.
“Kristie has supposedly been dismissed, not for the posts she made, but for a deliberately distorted and unkind interpretation of the content that she linked to.
“Even though her post was private to her family and friends she is being held responsible for what others might do with it.
Even though no one actually thinks or claimed that Kristie holds hateful views, she is being fired because one anonymous ‘friend’ said they were and because others might think the same.
It is clear no actual harm has come to the school’s reputation as a result of her posts, but that she has been sacked as if it had.
The posts were not even in relation to the secondary school but about the books being read in her son’s primary school.
“This hearing has exposed this clear injustice and we will support Kristie for as long as it takes to turn this around.”