The employers of a former Christian housing manager, who was demoted and given a 40 percent pay cut for saying he is against gay marriage on his personal Facebook page, say they were afraid of losing a gay rights award.
Leaders of the Trafford Housing Trust, a nonprofit housing association in Manchester, England, admitted their concerns that the comments of 54-year-old Adrian Smith could cost them the “quality mark” given by a local organization that supports homeless homosexuals, the Daily Mail reported late last week.
After denying Smith's appeal of the demotion, which resulted in his salary being reduced from £35,000 (about $60,000 USD) per year to £21,000 (about $34,000 USD), the Trust gave him a letter explaining its concern over losing the award.
David Barrow, the commercial director for the Trust, said Smith's Facebook comments upset some of his colleagues and “had the potential to seriously undermine the Albert Kennedy Accreditation, which we were proud to receive last year.”
The Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) helps homosexuals between the ages of 16 and 25, who are either homeless or living in a hostile home environment, by providing them with housing options through foster care and other means. AKT gives out accreditation to organizations, including the Trafford Housing Trust, that are supportive of its cause.
“It is clear that your comments did have the potential to bring the Trust into disrepute,” Barrow told Smith.
The letter also said that Smith, who is a Christian, has a right to preach in churches if he would like to, but, “If, however, you were preaching in this vicinity where you might be recognized or linked to the Trust, there could potentially be an issue.”
The controversy began in February when Smith described an article about civil partnership ceremonies taking place in churches as “anequality too far” on his personal Facebook page.
After someone asked him to clarify if he approved of the ceremonies or not, Smith wrote, “No, not really. 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.”
According to the Daily Mail, the Trust said on Saturday evening that it expects employees “to act respectfully and adopt our ethos of valuing, respecting, supporting and treating people with dignity regardless of their age, disability, faith, gender or gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity status or race/ethnicity or sexual orientation.”
Since Smith's demotion, and the ensuing lawsuit he filed against his employers to reclaim the lost pay, individuals and organizations on both sides of the gay rights issue have spoken out against the housing Trust for denying him his free speech rights.
Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and a homosexual activist, is urging Trafford Housing Trust to reinstate Smith to both his managerial position and his former salary.
Tatchell doesn't agree with Smith's views on gay marriage, but says demoting him for sharing his opinion is “excessive and disproportionate,” according to the BBC. He also said Smith's Facebook comments did not express a “particularly homophobic viewpoint,” and indicates that, if anything, he may have only violated company policy.
"In a democratic society, he has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong,” Tatchell said. “Freedom of speech should only be limited or penalized in extreme circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against others. Mr. Smith's words did not cross this threshold.”
Smith is suing his employer with the support of The Christian Institute, a charity that defends Christians in their right to religious freedom.
“By their own admission, their fear about losing an LGBT award was a factor in their decision to penalize Adrian, a decision that has damaged his career and plunged his family towards financial hardship,” said Mike Judge, head of communications for the institute.
“Sadly, they seem determined to waste more public money defending the indefensible in court.”