Conservative pressure group behind failed ‘religious discrimination’ case

Image credit: Christian Legal Centre

By Rosie Dawson

A former pastoral assistant who claimed her school had breached her right to freedom of speech and religion has lost her claim for unfair dismissal.

Employment Judge Derek Reed concluded that Kristie Higgs’s dismissal for gross misconduct related to the posting of items on Facebook that “might reasonably lead people who read her posts to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic” and not for her Christian beliefs.

Ms Higgs, a pastoral administrator and work experience manager at Farmor’s school in Fairford, Gloucestershire, was supported in her case by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) and represented at the employment tribunal by Pavel Stroilov. The Centre has said it will be appeal against the decision.

Andrea Williams, the CLC’s chief executive, said: “This judgment should concern all of us who care about the freedom to be a Christian believer in the UK. This hearing has exposed this clear injustice and we will support Kristie for as long as it takes to turn this around.”

The legal centre comes under the umbrella of Christian Concern, a conservative pressure and advocacy organisation with a mailing list of 45,000 supporters. It says it “speaks of Jesus Christ in public life in light of key issues facing society” regularly commenting on abortion, taking a conservative position on gay and transgender issues, and championing Christians who believe they are being discriminated against because of their faith. A statement on its website says: “It’s becoming harder to be a Christian in the UK today.”

The group, which has its roots in the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, was founded in 2008 by Andrea Williams and Pastor Ade Omooba. Ms Williams, who is chief executive of both the legal centre and Christian Concern, is a member of the Church of England’s General Synod.

The CLC has supported a number of high-profile legal cases such as that of the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans whose fight in 2018 to prevent doctors at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool from withdrawing treatment for their son was ultimately unsuccessful. Its support of the couple was criticised, with the Court of Appeal questioning whether some of those purporting to represent the parents had been acting in their best interests.

The legal centre has had limited success in the causes it champions. Observers have suggested that Christian Concern may consider the publicity gained in bringing its agenda to public attention as success enough. It offers its services without charge to those that it supports.

The organisation claims 100 per cent success in cases where it has supported the rights of street preachers. In the most recent case, heard by Bristol magistrates on 5 October,  Avon and Somerset police, which had originally attempted to bring six injunctions against street preacher Mike Overd, dropped four of them.

However, Mr Overd is forbidden from using any form of amplification when preaching. He is also not allowed to use the word “murderer” within 80 yards of a Taunton abortion clinic. Christian Concern has told the Religion Media Centre that Mr Overd and two other local preachers will be bringing a case of harassment against the police in December.

Christian Concern also has a publishing arm, Wilberforce Publications, and runs the Wilberforce Academy which provides intensive one-week residential courses for Christian leaders. Its staff include Christian Concern’s co-founder Pastor Ade Omooba and the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali.

Christian Concern is registered with Companies House as a private limited company CCFON. In June 2019 its net worth was just under £21,000 with current assets of £38,664. Ms Williams and Pastor Omooba were listed as shareholders, with each of them owning between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of company shares.