A brave Christian lady has struck a big blow for all our rights. Christian teaching assistant Kristie Higgs has won her appeal, overturning a previous ruling that upheld her dismissal.
Kristie was sacked for sharing two Facebook posts that raised concerns about how transgenderism and compulsory sex education was to be taught at her son’s Church of England (CofE) primary school.
In a judgement last week, the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Dame Jennifer Eady allowed Mrs Higgs’s appeal against the decision of Bristol Employment Tribunal, and held: “The freedom to manifest belief (religious or otherwise) and to express views relating to that belief are essential rights in any democracy, whether or not the belief in question is popular or mainstream and even if its expression may offend.”
Mrs Justice Eady criticised the judges in Bristol for failing to assess, as they were required by law, whether the investigation and dismissal of Mrs Higgs “were prescribed by law and were necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, recognising the essential nature of [Mrs Higgs’s] rights to freedom of belief and freedom of expression”.
The ruling sets a legal precedent which confirms that the Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination not only for their beliefs, but also for expression or manifestation of their beliefs. It confirms that any limitation of freedom to manifest religion at workplace must be prescribed by law and go no further than is necessary in a democratic society for the protection of rights, freedoms and reputation of others.
This precedent will protect Christians who are disciplined or dismissed by their employers for manifesting their faith by sharing their beliefs in conversations or on social media, as well as by praying and wearing crosses, for example.
The case began back in 2019, when, after a six-hour interrogation, Kristie was told by her bosses at Fairford school, Gloucestershire, that her Christian beliefs, expressed in the posts, were akin to that of a ‘pro-Nazi right-wing extremist.’
Mrs Higgs had made the posts after discovering that the CofE school attended by her child planned, under the radar, to introduce ‘No Outsiders’ books on confusing and harmful gender identity. The books included ‘My princess boy’ and Red: A crayon’s story.
The first post encouraged friends and family to sign a petition challenging the government’s plans to introduce Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) to children in primary schools.
The post flagged that a government consultation on plans to make RSE mandatory for children as young as four was coming to a close and asked its readers to sign a nationwide petition calling on the government to uphold the rights of parents to have children educated in line with their religious beliefs.
A similar petition was subsequently signed by over 115,000 people and was debated in Parliament.
In the second post, Mrs Higgs shared an article from Judybeth.com on the rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in American schools and added her own comment: “This is happening in our primary schools now.”
The article critiqued the same LGBT ‘No Outsiders’ books promoting transgenderism to children in her son’s school.
Mrs Higgs has said that her aim had been to raise awareness among parents of the Government’s education plans and the transgender books being taught in primary schools.
One anonymous complaint to the headteacher of Farmor’s School, Matthew Evans, however, was enough to see her sacked for gross misconduct, which included allegations of ‘illegal discrimination’, ‘serious inappropriate use of social media’, and ‘online comments that could bring the school into disrepute and damage the reputation of the school.’
The decision was made despite the posts being made under her maiden name on a profile which had no links to her employer.
No evidence has ever been found that her posts brought the school into disrepute.
In response, Mrs Higgs launched legal action for discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her Christian beliefs.
In her judgment, Mrs Justice Eady overturned a previous rulingin October 2020 which had upheld the sacking.
Mrs Justice Eady has ruled that Bristol Employment Tribunal “failed to engage with the question identified in Eweida and ors v United Kingdom (2013) 57 EHRR 8; had it done so, it would have concluded that there was a close or direct nexus between the claimant’s Facebook posts and her protected beliefs.”
She remitted the case back to the Employment Tribunal to be reconsidered in the light of her ruling on issues of law.
Setting out a “guidance” for reconsideration of this case as well as for similar cases in the future, Mrs Justice Eady says: “First, the foundational nature of the rights must be recognised: “the freedom to manifest belief (religious or otherwise) and to express views relating to that belief are essential rights in any democracy, whether or not the belief in question is popular or mainstream and even if its expression may offend.”