A former magistrate will today have his discrimination case heard by the second-highest court in England. Richard Page has been embroiled in a five-year-long legal battle after allegedly being removed as a magistrate and non-executive NHS director for expressing the view that children are more likely to thrive when raised by a mother and a father.
The case is thought to be the first time that the Court of Appeal will consider a legal challenge related to Christian freedom of speech and employment. According to the advocacy group Christian Concern, Mr Page was suspended as a magistrate and removed from his NHS position after claiming on television that he had been discriminated against for holding Christian beliefs on parenting.
Christian Concern says that the case will "test whether someone can be forced out of a public position for sharing their beliefs".
Mr Page was originally reported to the judicial watchdog in 2014 after considering an adoption case which involved a homosexual couple. In closed-door deliberations, Page asserted the view that it would be more suitable for a heterosexual couple to raise the child. In a 2017 court appearance, Page claimed that he put forward this view because — alongside it being a part of his religious beliefs — one of the applicants had also failed a previous application, the child’s foster parents were keen to adopt the child, and he suspected the applicants were “adoption shopping” in England, before taking the child abroad.
Previously, the lord chancellor and the lord chief justice stated that Mr Page “was found to have been influenced by his religious beliefs and not evidence”, which amounted to serious misconduct.
After being reprimanded for his actions, Mr Page says the then lord chancellor, Chris Grayling, ordered him to undergo equality training.
Page denies any wrongdoing and insists that he is not homophobic.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Page, said of the latest development: "Richard Page's Christian understanding of the family is being treated as so offensive that those who express it are excluded from public life.
“Christians have tremendous capacity to serve society, but they are not only being told to leave their faith at the door – they are being told they cannot publicly express their faith anywhere.
“As a magistrate, Richard Page only wanted to do what was best for the child – the ‘gold standard’ for cases involving the welfare of a child. For expressing his well-founded belief that a child will do better with a mother and a father he has been unfairly dismissed and ruled out of public life.
"If Richard can also be thrown out of his NHS post, despite all his experience, for sharing his beliefs, it raises serious questions over how Christians can fully participate in society. His NHS role had nothing to do with his views about the family."
Ahead of the hearing, Mr Page said: "I am fighting this battle because I do not want anyone else to go through what I have. I do not want Christian beliefs to be barred from important positions in public life.
“When you sit in a Family Court, you have a huge responsibility to ensure the overall well-being of the children who are being recommended to be placed into new families. You weigh the reports and references before you and the evidence you hear. It is vital in such a scenario that a range of viewpoints are heard. That is why there are three magistrates who preside over a case, and not one dictating the decision.
“To punish and to seek to silence me for expressing a dissenting view is deeply worrying for our society. It is vital for Christians to take a stand for their freedoms, for the truth, and for the futures of our children.”