A Christian school assistant is taking her former employer to tribunal over claims she was sacked over Facebook posts in which she objected to plans to introduce education about LGBT relationships in primary schools.
Kristie Higgs is seeking £56,000 in compensation over claims that she lost her job at Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, after the headteacher was sent a screenshot of one of her private Facebook posts.
When religious beliefs and work collide
In a hearing that begins at the Bristol employment tribunal today, her legal team will argue that her dismissal breached her freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
In 2018, Higgs made two Facebook posts that expressed her beliefs about how LGBT relationships and community are taught in schools.
The first urged her network to sign a petition against government plans to introduce sex and relationships education in primary schools and the second included a link to an article by an American conservative Christian commentator which claimed there had been an increase in “transgender ideology” in children’s books in schools.
A few days after making the posts on her private Facebook account, which was under her maiden name and did not mention the school she worked at, the headteacher at Farmor’s School was passed an anonymous complaint about the posts, which described them as “homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community”.
The headteacher is alleged to have asked the complainant to “find more offensive posts” and promised to take immediate action against Higgs. Shortly afterwards, Higgs was suspended.
An investigation into her conduct was launched, which involved Higgs being questioned on why she had used her school email to receive quotations from the Bible.
The investigation culminated in Higgs being invited to attend 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.
The Christian Legal Centre, an advocacy group which is supporting Higgs with her claim, alleged that Higgs was told to “keep your religion out of it” when she tried to explain the context of the posts and her Christian beliefs.
She was later dismissed for gross misconduct in relation to discrimination, inappropriate use of social media and online comments that the school claimed could bring it into disrepute. Her appeal was rejected.
Ahead of her hearing, which is scheduled to run until Friday, Higgs said: “Nothing could have prepared me for what happened. I was told that the reasons behind my sacking were nothing to do with my Christian beliefs – it had everything to do with my Christian beliefs.
“I have been punished for sharing concerns about relationships and sex education. I hold these views because of my Christian beliefs, beliefs and views which are shared by hundreds of thousands of parents across the UK. My number one concern has always been the effect that learning about sex and gender in school will have on children at such a young age. I have not discriminated against anyone.
“Through my case I want there to be renewed freedom for others, especially Christians, to express their beliefs and opinions without fear of losing their jobs.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “This case is about the freedom to hold Christian views about what it means to be human. Many Christians have faced pressure for expressing these views in the workplace before, but in this case, Kristie has been dismissed for sharing her views among friends on Facebook.
“Kristie has not only lost her job, but her whole career is now tarnished with the accusation that for holding these views she is now a danger to vulnerable children. This is despite an exemplary record at the school and in her work with youth in the wider community. If Kristie does not win this case, due to one complaint, she will never be able to work with children again.”
Farmor’s School has been contacted for comment.