MANCHESTER, October 24, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Christian property manager in England has been demoted, taken a £14,000/year pay cut and narrowly avoided the sack for commenting on Facebook that Christian churches should not be forced to participate in same-sex union ceremonies.

54-year-old Adrian Smith was declared by a tax-funded housing trust to be guilty of “gross misconduct” after he called allowing same-sex ceremonies in churches “an equality too far” in a Facebook comment thread.

Writing on his own Facebook page, which was not accessible to anyone other than his Facebook friends, Smith had responded to a BBC news item about a controversial new law that would allow churches to conduct same-sex union ceremonies. Asked if his comment meant that he did not approve of the proposed law, Smith wrote, “No, not really. I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.

“The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. 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.”

The trust summoned Smith from home to a disciplinary meeting after another staff member complained. The Trafford Housing Trust, (THT) which manages homes in Sale, Greater Manchester, removed Smith from his managerial position that paid £35,000 per year, reemploying him as a £21,000/ year “adviser.”

With legal help from the Christian Institute, Smith is suing, saying the trust breached its contract by violating his rights to free speech and religious liberty.

The trust made a statement to the BBC, saying that its updated code of conduct “clearly set out what use employees can make of social networking sites such as Facebook.”

“Some three months after this new code was issued, Mr. Smith, without our authority or knowledge and on a Facebook page that identified him as a manager at Trafford Housing Trust, made comments that were found, by a full disciplinary investigation in which he had trade union representation, to be in breach of the company’s code of conduct and other policies.

“Mr. Smith was disciplined for his breach of company policy. The trust made no comment about any personal beliefs that he holds.”

Smith’s lawyer, Tom Ellis of Manchester-based law firm Aughton Ainsworth, said that Smith was “shocked and distressed” over the incident.

“As a Christian, Adrian believes in the values of fairness, courtesy and respect for the opinions of others. These are the values of a mature and healthy society.

“Surely that leaves room for colleagues to discuss and even disagree about the topics of the day. Conversations like that happen in offices and factories up and down the country every day.”

The incident has aroused outrage among some of the UK’s popular newspaper columnists, even on the left. Ally Fogg, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper, noted that Smith had “politely expressed some relatively mild views” on the issue. “If the trust was concerned about its reputation for inclusiveness and tolerance, it couldn’t have got things more badly wrong,” Fogg wrote.