A Christian teaching assistant in England won her appeal against a prior judgment that upheld her 2019 dismissal for sharing Facebook posts that critiqued transgenderism and compulsory sex education in her son's Church of England primary school.
In the Friday ruling, President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London Jennifer Eady ruled in favor of Kristie Higgs, stating that the "freedom to manifest belief (religious or otherwise) and to express views relating to that belief are essential rights in any democracy, whether or not the belief in question is popular or mainstream and even if its expression may offend."
Higgs was dismissed in 2019 from the Farmor's School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, after she took to social media to voice objection to her child's Church of England school planning to introduce books that promoted transgender identity.
She also encouraged her family and friends to sign a petition challenging plans to incorporate sex education into primary schools. A similar petition was signed by over 115,000 people and debated in Parliament.
She was let go after an extended interrogation, during which she was told that her Christian beliefs, as expressed in her posts, were comparable to "pro-Nazi right-wing extremist" views.
Eady chastized the Bristol judges for neglecting to determine whether the investigation and subsequent dismissal of Higgs "were prescribed by law and were necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, recognizing the essential nature of [Higgs's] rights to freedom of belief and freedom of expression."
The Christian Legal Centre, which represents Higgs, praised Eady's decision as one that sets a legal precedent that safeguards the right to manifest one's beliefs, as well as to express them under the Equality Act of 2010.
The decision also confirms that any restrictions on the freedom to manifest religion in the workplace must be legally justified and proportionate to protecting others' rights, freedoms and reputations.
The group hopes this legal precedent would protect Christians who face disciplinary action or dismissal for expressing their faith through conversations or social media posts, as well as through acts of prayer or wearing religious symbols, such as crosses.
In concluding her judgment, Justice Eady apologized to the involved parties for the delays and indicated that the case would be returned for a re-hearing, further postponing the final judgment for Higgs.
Despite her posts being made under her maiden name on a profile that had no links to her employer, and despite no evidence ever being found that her posts brought the school into disrepute, she was sacked for gross misconduct, which included allegations of "illegal discrimination," "serious inappropriate use of social media," and "online comments that could bring the school into disrepute and damage the reputation of the school."
In response, Higgs launched legal action for discrimination and harassment based on her Christian beliefs.
Friday's judgment overturned a previous ruling from October 2020, which upheld the sacking. She remitted the case back to the Employment Tribunal to be reconsidered in light of her ruling on issues of law.
The ruling comes at a time when the government has announced that it will undertake an urgent review of "inappropriate" sex education in U.K. schools.
"I am pleased that the courts have overturned the previous judgment, but I am frustrated by the further delays to receiving justice," Higgs said in a statement.
"I was, and still am, appalled by the sexual ideology that was being introduced to my son's Church of England primary school. ... Since I lost the job I loved, there has been so many disturbing revelations about transgender ideology in schools and children being taught inappropriate sex education. I feel so justified and vindicated for sharing and expressing the concerns that I did."
Higgs contends that Christian parents should "have the freedom to bring their children up in line with their Christian beliefs."
"I want young children to be protected from transgender ideology and Christians must also be able to share their opinions and beliefs without fear of losing their jobs," she said.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, thanked Eady for having the "courage to exonerate" Higgs.
"Kristie was punished in 2019 as a result of the climate of fear and intolerance created in our education system by Stonewall and other LGBT activist groups," Williams said.
Higgs' pursuit of justice has faced a series of unusual obstacles.
In July 2022, her appeal was postponed after Justice Eady was forced to recuse trans activist Edward Lord from sitting as a lay magistrate on the presiding panel. Later, in March 2023, another recusal was necessary when it was discovered that Andrew Morris, former assistant general secretary of National Education Union, would be presiding as a lay magistrate.
With both recusals, Justice Eady was forced to proceed "judge alone." The further hearing date has yet to be announced, the Christian Legal Centre stated.