Legal Docket: A religious freedom win in the U.K.


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Monday morning and a brand new work week for The World and Everything in It. Today is the 8th of July, 2019. Good morning to you, I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The premier blog for all things Supreme Court released statistics for the term just ended. For court nerds, it’s packed with stats. I’ll just throw a few at you from my notes.

Megan, I know this is out of your wheelhouse as movie maven. But guess which circuit got reversed the most often?

BASHAM: I’m going to guess it includes Hollywood…the 9th Circuit?

REICHARD: Bingo! Out of 14 cases from that circuit, the high court reversed 86 percent. Okay, well, strictly speaking, the 7th Circuit had a 100 percent reversal, but only one case came from there.

BASHAM: Yea, that doesn’t equate. I’m curious how many unanimous decisions came down?

REICHARD: Twenty-eight, out of 70 argued cases. That’s just under 40 percent. Compared to other terms since John Roberts became the chief justice, that’s on the low end. Now, oftentimes those are very narrow rulings. So it doesn’t sound as good as you might think.

BASHAM: What other interesting stats did you find?

REICHARD: The most prolific writer was Justice Neil Gorsuch, as far as writing the most pages. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the fewest pages, but she turned her work around the fastest.

Here’s something that caught my eye: John Roberts has a reputation for sometimes siding with the liberal wing of the court—most notably in the 2012 case upholding most of Obamacare. And last month he led a 5-4 decision blocking the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Some people compare him to Anthony Kennedy.

But guess what? He’s not the one who most often sided with the liberal justices in 5-4 decisions. It was actually Justice Gorsuch. And those are mostly in Native American or criminal defendant cases.

BASHAM: Interesting! OK, and along those same lines: How often did the five more conservative justices vote together when it was a 5-4 decision?

REICHARD: Eight times. And also of interest: the four liberal justices took the majority when a conservative justice joined them also eight times.

BASHAM: If you are one of those who really, really likes to look at Supreme Court statistics, just go to scotusblog.com.

REICHARD: Well, turning to today’s topic. We partially take up a listener’s suggestion for Legal Docket. Twitter followers Papa and Mama Baehr live in Australia. They suggested a sort of legal world tour. I love that idea!

BASHAM: So do I! And I see you’ve got a big free speech decision that came down last week in England.

REICHARD:

Yes, so today we’ll focus on that and get to the rest of the world a bit later. 

But this case out of the U.K. is a big deal.

Here’s the background.

Sheffield University expelled a devout Christian for a post he made on Facebook.

The student, Felix Ngole, responded to a question put to him on Facebook about sexual ethics. He expressed the Biblical view that homosexuality is a sin, quoting Leviticus. 

An anonymous complaint about that led the university to decide Ngole wasn’t fit to practice social work. That’s what he was studying to become. A social worker. The school said he couldn’t do social work and also hold Christian views.

Ngole sued for violations of his speech and religious rights. He lost. But last week, he won on appeal.

Here’s Ngole on YouTube the day of his good news: Sound courtesy of Christian Concern.

NGOLE: Hello. I’m Felix Ngole. I’m the student who was expelled from the University of Sheffield for actually expressing my faith… and it’s been almost four years now I’ve been fighting to clear my name. And I’m really excited today that the judges finally ruled in my favor…And I thank you for all the encouragement, and I pray the Lord will bless you for doing that.

I called up one of his lawyers. Paul Diamond handles religious liberty legal cases across Europe. 

He says this ruling in favor of Ngole is especially important, set against what’s been going on in Europe for years now.

DIAMOND: Across society in Europe is a determined effort, I would almost use the word to weaken the Christian faith, not allow it to be expressed. So, first it’s hate speech. If you say homosexuality is a sin, then it shows that you’re a discriminator. It’s impossible for you to be a lawyer, doctor or any other profession if you are a Christian with such views, because you will discriminate.

Some of the goings-on in England will sound familiar to Americans. Cambridge University rescinded a fellowship offer to professor and best-selling author Jordan Peterson, ostensibly over his conservative views. He’s not even outwardly religious.

And there are many others. A Christian magistrate was fired for saying in a media interview he thought a child put up for adoption would be better off with a married man and woman than with a gay couple. He later wrote his belief that experimenting with a child is unethical. That case is in the appeal process.

And there are other views being shut down.

DIAMOND: We’ve had a professor Roger Scruton, who’s a famous philosopher, removed from a government task force because he used the word Islamic “tribe,” which was offensive and then he had to be removed. And in this context, Christians are very much attacked in Europe. Dire, serious consequences will flow of the most intolerant nature by those who claim to be tolerant. And that’s what this case was about. 

This case being Felix Ngole’s college suspension case.

I asked Diamond what the appeal court actually decided.

DIAMOND: They said you can’t go into everyone’s private life. In this case it was so much power the regulatory board was saying it could even affect a private conversation that was overheard. It could even affect someone giving a sermon in church on the Christian doctrine. It would apply across the board. And quoting Bible verses cannot manifest discriminatory action. You have to have a discriminatory act, not the mere expression. So this case is a great stand for freedom. 

What a “discriminatory act” might be has been partially resolved in the U.K. Its highest court ruled last fall that a baker in Ireland was not obliged to create a custom cake expressing a pro-gay message. The baker profoundly disagreed with those words.

Diamond told me that the context of Felix Ngole’s Facebook post, the one that got him expelled from university, had to do with Kim Davis. She’s that court clerk in Kentucky who refused to register same-sex couples for marriage licenses. 

I asked him how an American case would capture attention in Europe?

DIAMOND: Kim Davis went to prison. The first Christian to go to prison for adhering to their beliefs was in the United States. And that sent a sort of fission around the world. America’s reputation around the world was affected by that. So when Kim Davis was arrested, people were talking about it all across Europe and all across England. You know, what’s happened to America, how could this happen in America of all countries? Where we can understand in France or England, but not America!

I asked how Ngole’s win for free speech and religious belief will be received, given the sorry state of these things in Europe.

DIAMOND: It’s going to shock a lot of people, because in our culture it’s been very one way. We haven’t got judges like you have in America. Most Christians never win in our courts and are normally derided and lose no matter how strong the case is. So this is a firm victory, and it was in the court of appeal, and it was all three judges came down in favor of Felix Ngole. So it’s going to shock the establishment.

The University of Sheffield has been ordered by the appeal court to “reconsider” its expulsion of Felix Ngole. The university last week said it was considering its options.

DIAMOND: I think Americans need to be aware of where this agenda is going and where people want to take it. So you can see the nonsense of it. But I don’t know whether the Americans have the same input.

This doesn’t seem to affect the Islamic community, who has the most very often strident views on women, gays, and Jewish people. And no one seems to make any bones on their religious beliefs. But Christians are under the microscope for the slightest hate speech as it’s called. And this is why this case is important because of course Felix Ngole won, and they recognize some of the complexities of the issue.

I asked Diamond how American and European jurisprudence are tied together in the culture wars.

DIAMOND: That’s the thing. We need to sort of understand a bit. And I think one of the good things about if I may say my appearance on this show is that there is a world out there that’s actually very similar to the United States and particularly the Anglo Saxon world: England, Australia and New Zealand, where we’re actually very similar in our cultures and very similar in the same legal problems…

…what I would say is I think it’s very dangerous still. You can see how the media is screaming and squealing around the world. They’re not imparting news. They’re players in the war …And you haven’t got much freedom if you’re going to lose your job or you’re going to be known around the world as a hater. That isn’t a culture of freedom. That’s a culture of fear. And so we, I think both of our countries have got a long way to go.

What would I would like to plead, if I may? I think a lot of Americans probably say, well, Europe’s finished and England really finished. It’s not quite finished, and there are quite a few of us fighting here….we’re still really keen if we could work together with good well-meaning Americans to put a stem to this and have common sense and go for that center ground.

My guest was Paul Diamond, a lawyer in the U.K. who defends many religious liberty matters in European courts.

And that’s this week’s Legal Docket.


Facebook/University of Sheffield

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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