A Christian school assistant who took her former employer to tribunal over claims she was sacked because of her religious beliefs has lost her case.
Kristie Higgs was dismissed for gross misconduct by Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, after sharing Facebook posts that criticised the introduction of teaching about LGBT relationships in primary schools.
In the hearing at Bristol employment tribunal last month, her legal team argued that her dismissal breached her freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Christianity and LGBT
In 2018, Higgs shared two Facebook posts that expressed her beliefs about how LGBT relationships and community are taught in schools.
After making the posts on her private Facebook account, the head teacher was passed an anonymous complaint about the posts, which described them as “homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community”.
Higgs was suspended and an investigation into her conduct launched. The process culminated in a meeting at a hotel, in which it is alleged she was subjected to six hours of “intimidating” questioning and her posts being compared to “pro-Nazi” views.
Higgs’ case is the third to be supported by the Christian Legal Centre. Dr David Mackereth, who lost his job after saying his Christian beliefs do not permit him to refer to trans patients’ preferred pronouns, and Maya Forstater, who lost her job after tweeting that transgender women cannot change their biological sex, both lost their cases because their beliefs were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. Those cases are under appeal.
Higgs’ case was not a question of whether she had been directly discriminated against or harassed for her Christianity but rather for her lack of belief in issues including gender fluidity and same-sex marriage and her specific beliefs including that when “unbiblical” ideas are promoted she should counter them, and a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, in particular Genesis 1v 27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”.
The judgment said that the tribunal’s task was to decide if there was a causal connection between these beliefs and the way she was treated. “We concluded that there was not. Our view was that her treatment was not because of the relevant beliefs and accordingly her claim of direct discrimination failed.”
Judge Reed added: “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. 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.
“We were also conscious that Mrs Higgs made it clear that she had no intention of desisting from making any further such posts in the future.”
Higgs’ claim for harassment also failed. The judgment read: “This was an unexceptional disciplinary process. Whilst it clearly would have been unpleasant for Mrs Higgs to experience it, we were not satisfied that the conduct had either the purpose or effect of violating her dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her.”
A spokesman for the school said: “The school, at all times, has worked to ensure that all our pupils are treated with equality, so they can thrive in an inclusive environment. We recognise and respect the rights of all our pupils, families and employees to hold and manifest their beliefs.
“The school’s actions were in response to the particular language used on social media, which was not reflective of our ethos as a school. We hope that the judgment will bring this matter to a close.”
However, Higgs said she would appeal: “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… 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 be able to share their opinions and beliefs without fear of losing their jobs.”