11 April 2012

UK Must be PC on IPs

Adrian Smith, an 18 year veteran of the Trafford Council and Trafford Housing Trust (near Manchester, United Kingdom), was significantly demoted on his job for making moral comments on Facebook.

In October, Smith for daring to post on his own time on a private Facebook page that he thought that same sex “marriages” in churches was “an equality too far”.   When a colleague followed up on whether Smith disapproved of “Gay church marriages go too far”, Smith commented:

I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.

These comments were brought to the attention of a supervisor.  Subsequently, Smith was demoted from a £35,000 managerial post to a £21,000 position.  The only reason that he was not fired outright was because of his long record of service. 

Smith tried to appeal in court a seemingly out of proportion disciplinary decision that violated his free speech rights.  But in Manchester County Court, District Judge Charles Khan ruled that Smith could not rely on a human rights claim and could only pursue the case under a breach of contract theory.  If this strict separation between public and private employers holds, it does not bode well for the British cases before the European Human Rights Court about wearing a cross on the job.

Even though Smith was disciplined because the Housing Council was worried about its reputation acting as a public housing provider, the judge ruled that employment practices were a private function hence it was not covered by the Human Rights Act.  The lawsuit will continue to be pursued for Mr. Smith by The Christian Institute, a non-profit organization seeking to defend the religious liberty of Christians.

The fracas over Adrian Smith’s Facebook posting raises some interesting issues.  Are Christians’ religious liberties being respected by western secular governments?  Conversely, are other moral or religious perspectives privileged over orthodox Christian beliefs?  What is the demarcation line between a persons freedom of speech outside of the office and “towing the line” regarding moral and political issues?  If employees need to tow a line, is there a manifesto of beliefs or it is a politically correct fluidity, as it depends on what favored protected class poses the greatest threat? 

Even in America, which has freedom of speech, the press and religion enshrined as the first thing enumerated in the Bill of Rights, Adrian Smith’s case could give a cause for pause.  The Obama Administration’s Contraception Mandate dictates that Catholic Charities must offer (and indirectly finance) services that are morally repugnant.   Prospective employers are now demanding that applicants surrender their Facebook passwords prior to hiring for inspection.  

It may be time to break out the Aldous Huxley: “Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself."  It’s a brave new world.  If that’s the case, stop the world, I want to get off.  But it is said that the world is what you make of it. This episode give a clear blueprint of what not to do.

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