Adrian Smith, who has worked for Trafford Housing Trust and Trafford Council for 18 years, was demoted from a housing manager on a salary of £35,000 to a ‘money support advisor’ – rent collector – with a salary of £21,000, following an internal disciplinary hearing. He would have been sacked altogether if not for his longterm excellent employment record.
But even Peter Tatchell described THT’s response as “excessive and disproportionate”. Tatchell is a leading gay rights campaigner, but he has backed Mr Smith’s right to hold an opposing opinion.
Disciplinary action was launched against Mr Smith when he commented “an equality too far” next to a BBC News Online story with the headline, “Gay church ‘marriage’ set to get the go-ahead”. He added: “If the state wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
Mr Tatchell said:
“Adrian Smith’s opposition to churches being compelled to hold gay marriages is shared by much of the population, including many equality and human rights organisations. In a democratic society, he has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong. Freedom of speech should only be limited or penalised in extreme circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against others. Mr Smith’s words did not cross this threshold.”
The Trust previously said its Code of Conduct was updated in 2010 to establish the proper use of social networking sites such as Facebook. Under the code, staff are expected to ensure their opinions cannot be mistaken as being the opinions of the Trust.
Mr Smith is being supported in his legal action by The Christian Institute, a national charity that defends the religious liberty of Christians. He is claiming interference with his rights to free speech and religious liberty, and breach of contract.