Last month the Bible-thumping Mayor of Ferryhill in County Durham – Richard Smith – was forced to resign over anti-gay and anti-Muslim social media posts. But, to the delight of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), he is being allowed to retain his post as a town councillor.
Smith, a pastor, was propelled into the spotlight after a number of activists, led by local drag queen “Tess Tickle”, campaigned for his removal over posts on his personal Facebook account.
Eight formal complaints were made to Durham County Council, alleging that Mr Smith’s posts were:
Homophobic, transphobic, extremist, [and stirred up] hatred against persons on the basis of protected characteristics.
According to the CLC, A further complaint accused Smith of dishonesty relating to the distribution of food to the needy by Immanuel Christian Fellowship, of which he is a trustee.
Having received support from the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Smith has had all of these complaints dismissed by Durham County Council. Regarding the complaints about his social media posts, the decision points out that:
• Mr Smith has the right to freedom of expression, as expressed in articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights
• Many of the posts were made prior to his election as a town councillor
• None of his posts were made in his official capacity as a councillor or as mayor
The complaint alleging dishonesty provided no supporting evidence of its claims and no official complaints have been made to Greggs or Immanuel Christian Fellowship about the distribution of food.In his response to the complaints, Smith argued that the allegations were “damaging to his integrity” and politically motivated, following the first change in the balance of power in the town council for 118 years. He said:
I’m grateful that the council has recognised my right to freely express my Christian faith while remaining a town councillor.
My faith in Christ is what drives me to help people regardless of their faith, disability, colour, culture, sexuality, or political persuasion. I have never let the convictions of my faith dictate who receives my help or the help from the church. I’ve always been motivated by the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus, a love that is full of mercy and grace.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, above, said:
We are delighted to have supported Richard – a caring and compassionate man, full of conviction and ideal for public service. He never should have been hounded out of his position as mayor, but we’re pleased that he can continue to serve the public as a town councillor.