A U.K. judge has ruled in favor of a Christian man who was demoted from his job as a housing trust manager after he expressed views against gay marriage on his private Facebook page.
Justice Briggs ruled in favor of Adrian Smith on Friday, calling the breach of contract committed by Smith's employer, the Trafford Housing Trust, both "serious and repudiatory."
"Mr. Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40 per cent reduction in salary," the judge wrote in his decision.
Due to legal technicalities, though, Smith was only awarded £100 (about $159) in damages – the difference between his contractual salary and what he was paid for the 12 weeks he worked after assuming a lesser role in the organization.
Matthew Gardiner, chief executive for the Trust, said in a statement that the organization wasn't aware of any legal action until the media began covering the situation, and Smith would have been given "ten times" the amount of money if he had agreed to an earlier settlement offer. Regardless, Gardiner says he apologized to Smith, who still works for the organization.
"We fully accept the court's decision and I have made a full and sincere apology to Adrian. At the time we believed we were taking the appropriate action following discussions with our employment solicitors and taking into account his previous disciplinary record," said Gardiner.
Gardiner also emphasized that the case was really about interpreting the Trust's code of conduct, and not about the denial of a person's right to religious expression.
According to The Christian Institute, a civil liberties organization that financially supported Smith in the legal battle, Smith said he is glad the case went his way, but is concerned that others who support traditional marriage might also be made into "outcasts" should the government decide to allow same-sex marriage.
"I have won today. But what will tomorrow bring? I am fearful that, if marriage is redefined, there will be more cases like mine – and if the law of marriage changes people like me may not win in court," said Smith.
He added, "The Prime Minister should think very carefully about the impact of redefining marriage on ordinary people."
The controversy between Smith and his employers began over a year ago. Smith posted the link to an article about forcing churches to host same-sex wedding ceremonies, and described it as "an equality too far." He also expressed his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and said the state "shouldn't impose its rules on places of faith and conscience."
Smith's Facebook profile was private at the time – only his friends could view his comments – but some of his co-workers who saw the post complained. It was later revealed that the Trust was also concerned about losing a quality mark awarded to it by The Albert Kennedy Trust, an organization that supports homeless homosexuals between the ages of 16 and 25.
Peter Tatchell, director of Peter Tatchell Foundation, is a homosexual activist, and though he disagrees with Smith's Facebook comments, he has supported the housing manager's right to free speech all along and called the judge's ruling a "victory for free speech and fair play."
"Free speech is too often being eroded in the name of protecting people against real or imagined offense. It is a precious freedom and should only be limited in extreme circumstances, such as when people incite violence," said Tatchell in a blog post.
"I wish Adrian supported gay marriages in churches, but he is not a nasty homophobe," Tatchell added. "It was always absurd to suggest that he was some kind of bigot. He's not."