The second member of the panel declined to hear Christian’s motion to be fired

A second member of the lay panel was prevented from hearing an appeal from a school worker who claims she was fired for apparent bias because of her Christian faith.

Kristie Higgs, 46, was sacked from Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in 2019 for gross misconduct after she shared Facebook posts criticizing plans to teach LGBT relations in primary schools.

Ms Higgs, with the support of the Christian Legal Centre, took the school to an employment tribunal, arguing she had been unlawfully discriminated against because of her Christian faith.

The school had refused to fire the mother of two because of her religious beliefs, saying she was fired because of the language used in the passages.

In its 2020 decision, the court concluded that her religion is a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act, but the school lawfully dismissed her.

Ms Higgs has appealed this judgment to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London, but the start was delayed after lawyers learned that one of the lay panel members hearing the case had been a senior official from the National Education Union (NEU). .

The NEU has supported relationship, sex and health education in schools.

Andrew Morris is a former deputy general secretary of the union and was one of two lay panel members who sat alongside Ms Justice Eady.

After hearing the application, Ms Justice Eady said she allowed Mr Morris to be dismissed.

“At the material time, the lay member was a member of an organization and held a senior position, and the organization was campaigning on discussion areas identified in the plaintiff’s Facebook posts,” the judge said.

“Whether or not Mr. Morris agreed or disagreed with all statements made by the NEW as Deputy Secretary-General, he is inevitably associated with the views expressed, which were clearly on the opposite side of the debate from those of the plaintiff.

“These were not just the statements of an organization expressing its opinion on current issues, as many unions will do, but of a very special federation that took a very serious interest in the issues at stake on behalf of its members and had in taken on a campaigning role in this regard.

“In the circumstances, I think it is difficult to see how Mr Morris, as Deputy Secretary-General, could publicly distance himself from these views.

“Under the circumstances, whatever the personal position of Mr. Morris, the thus informed impartial observer would necessarily conclude that a real possibility of unconscious bias remained.”

It is the second time a panel member has been barred from hearing Ms Higgs’ appeal because of apparent bias.

Edward Lord was rebuffed last year for apparent bias based on public statements they made on LGBTQ+ rights.

The hearing continues with Mrs Justice Eady sitting alone as President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Ms Higgs, from Fairford, Gloucestershire, shared and commented on posts that raised concerns about relationship education at her son’s Church of England primary school.

Students should learn about the No Outsiders in Our School program, a series of books teaching Equality Law in primary schools.

Ms Higgs, who posted on Facebook under her maiden name, shared two posts with around 100 friends in October 2018.

One of the posts referred to “brainwashing our children,” adding, “Children are taught that all relationships are equally valid and ‘normal’, so same-sex marriages are exactly the same as traditional marriages and gender is a matter of choice, not.” Biology, so it’s up to them what gender they are.

“We say again that this is a vicious form of totalitarianism designed to suppress Christianity and remove it from the public arena.”

An anonymous complaint was filed with the school and Ms Higgs was suspended and, after a disciplinary hearing, dismissed for gross misconduct.

Richard O’Dair, representing Ms Higgs, said when she shared the Facebook posts she was expressing her freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

He told the hearing: “It is an undisputed fundamental principle of Convention jurisprudence that freedom of expression is allowed a very broad latitude of expression on important matters.

“That’s the law. As a court of appeal, you must trust that the labor court has understood and taken this into account.

“You can’t have that level of confidence in my submission.

“There is one other point that the court should have considered but did not. That the offending language wasn’t hers.

“As a participant, she passed on the democratic debate language of others. It is not at all known here that the court was aware of such subtleties.

“The Labor Court erred in law in concluding that a reasonable person could conclude that the plaintiff was homophobic.

“Freedom of expression is under threat and it is fighting hard. In my view, it is also true and just as untrue that religious freedom is under this existential threat.

“It should not be forgotten what the plaintiff did in this case, as an expression of her faith and concern for the children, to stimulate a political debate.

“And where we are is an indication that not only freedom of expression but also freedom of religion is under threat.”

The hearing continues. The second member of the panel declined to hear Christian’s motion to be fired

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