It is often forgotten in modern history classes that England is the birthplace of our modern conception of liberty. It is from the green and fertile nation, just a short distance from my home city of Edinburgh where I write these words, that the ideas of man's innate right to freely associate, contract, and, most importantly, to freely speak his mind first originated. It was the ancient, inherited English common law (whose origin remains shrouded in magnificent mystery) that gave birth to Magna Carta - the 800th Anniversary of which we celebrated recently - and subsequently begat the rights we all treasure. This tradition is the direct ancestor of J.S. Mill and John Locke and all their beautiful ideas and notions of the individual as supreme above the state and the person above the collective. The fine tradition of English liberty is why the English-speaking countries are the nicest places to live if one values one's own personal independence. As it says on the inscription on the monument to Magna Carta at Runnymede; English liberty and its academic tradition was the inspiration for "liberty under law".
Everyone that follows in this tradition must surely be appalled by the recent decision taken by the University of Sheffield. For the unaware, this fine English institution recently took the decision to stop one of its students, 38-year-old Felix Ngole, from continuing his studies because of a Facebook post he shared that expressed disagreement with gay marriage. Mr Ngole shared a post that said "I stand with Kim Davis" - the Kentucky clerk who received some notoriety recently for refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples and was temporarily the darling of the American conservative right. He also provided a biblical argument against homosexual behaviour, calling it an "abomination" - which is biblically accurate.
His (former?) university contacted him to inform him that his statements "transgressed the boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the social work profession" and that his studies, computer use, and library privileges were being terminated. A spokesman from the University of Sheffield told The Tab, which reported the story, that the case was under appeal and that it would not comment further on it.
In summary, the situation seems to be as follows: Mr Ngole shared a post on his personal Facebook page that expressed an opinion unbefitting of someone preparing themselves to enter the social work profession and his studies were terminated.
First, an unfortunately necessary throat clearing. I do not agree with Mr Ngole.
Homosexuality is not an abomination and saying so goes against the evidence we have on the subject. Gay people, regardless of whether their homosexuality is a matter of nature or nurture, are no more or less 'abominable' than their heterosexual or bisexual peers and, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, "homosexuality is not just a form of sex but it is also a form of love and deserves our respect for that reason". Neither is the extension of marriage rights an abomination (as if such a term were of any use in a political sense); it is purely the latest iteration of an ever-evolving institution that at one time considered women to be property and was the exclusive right of non-slaves at a time when slavery itself was an institution. As an aside, the tradition of English liberty can also be credited with the abolition of slavery - another sad omission from modern history textbooks.
The question is this; should a student be ejected from their course for expressing a view on a political subject - even one as unorthodox as the one Felix Ngole expressed?
The answer, for anyone with a belief in free speech, must surely be NO!
If we are to hold that that expressing a view in public - the publicity of which is the reason given for the action taken in this case i.e. it is not that Mr Ngole disagrees with homosexuality and gay marriage that got him evicted from his studies (which given that it was Masters level, he would have committed at least three years of his life to) but that he expressed such a view in public - is grounds for being expelled from an academic institution and a professional body then we set a worrying precedent.
For instance, one of the candidates for President of the United States is Dr Ben Carson; by all accounts, an accomplished and brilliant neurosurgeon. He also holds some unorthodox beliefs on everything from ancient civilisation to gay marriage (he obliquely compared it to bestiality) and he presumably held these beliefs during his career. Did his beliefs, similar to those of Mr Ngole, prevent him from saving lives or discharging his professional duties as a neurosurgeon? Similarly, the former Congressman from Texas and Libertarian Presidential Candidate Dr Ron Paul wishes to abolish income tax and the Federal Reserve (again, an unorthodox stance) - did his beliefs stop him being an excellent obstetrician and gynaecologist? Self-evidently not!
The point is that the personal and the political must be kept separate, especially in the age of social media where all of our opinions become a matter of public record. If the University of Sheffield does not reinstate Mr Ngloe's position as a student then it will contribute to a dangerous precedent that states that being qualified to do your job or complete your course is not enough - you must also think the correct way and hold the correct opinions. How many good social workers - which by all testimony Mr Ngole would have been - would be lost to this doctrine? I ask this, how many good professionals is this principle worth?
Finally, if my case is not enough to persuade the reader that the political and the professional require a Jeffersonian 'wall of separation' then I ask simply this; what if it was your principles and your dream job on the line?
Perhaps you think that would never happen?
Felix Ngole probably thought the same.