‘An Employment Tribunal has ruled in favour of a Christian pastor and school caretaker who was punished for a tweet that said LGBTQ pride events are harmful and should not be attended by Christians and children.
Employment Judge King ruled that Pastor Keith Waters, 55, who has been supported by the Christian Legal Centre, had been discriminated against when he was hounded out of his part-time caretaker role at the Isle of Ely primary school in 2019 following a social media maelstrom, which included a death threat.
In an important ruling, the employment tribunal found in favour of Pastor Waters’ freedom to express his biblical beliefs on human identity and sexual morality on social media.
Furthermore, the ruling finds that Christian pastors that have employment alongside their church ministries are free to express their biblical faith online without fear of losing other jobs.
Before a full Employment Tribunal in Cambridge in January 2022, Pastor Waters’ lawyer, Michael Phillips, had argued that the Isle of Ely primary school had interfered with Pastor Waters’ rights to freedom of religion, thought and expression and that the tweet that led to his forced resignation was a manifestation of his Christian beliefs.
Freedom of Speech
Handing down judgment on the case this week, Employment Judge King ruled that Pastor Waters had been discriminated against by the school, saying: ‘The fact that the claimant made the tweet outside of work on his personal account as part of his role as a Christian Minister is highly relevant. It is one thing to have rules that apply during work and something else to extend those to one’s private life outside of work.’
Judge King added that: ‘To curtail the claimant’s freedom of speech outside of work which is an important part of his role as a Christian minister and thus part of freedom to practice his religion must be done with some exercise of caution and only in the clearest cases where the rights of others are being damaged should the School intervene to prevent the claimant from preaching.
‘It is clear to us that evangelical Christian ministers will have views not necessarily shared by everyone in Society but that is part of their duty as a Christian minister to preach those beliefs.’
On whether it was lawful for the school to give Pastor Waters a final written warning, forcing him to choose between his caretaker role and freedom to ability to express the Christian faith on social media, Judge King ruled:
‘It was not proportionate to act in the way the [school] did given that the views expressed were done so as part of the claimant’s religious beliefs outside of work. The claimant relies on the risk of getting a disciplinary sanction as being the act of indirect discrimination. We accept that it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim for the claimant to be investigated and called to a disciplinary meeting to explore further the relationship between the tweet and his roles but we do not accept that giving the claimant a final written warning for his tweet in this context was a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aims. Giving the claimant a final written warning did not protect the School or the Trust as it would have been confidential and not in the public domain so as far as parents were concerned the claimant would have still been employed had he not resigned.
The judge ruled that giving a final warning, unlike a public statement, would not even reduce the alleged offence caused by the tweet, and said: ‘The giving of a final written warning cannot eliminate the offence caused to others .’
Christian beliefs protected and ‘worthy of respect’
Judge King made further important points on whether Pastor Waters’ Christian beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010. For example, on his beliefs are ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society’ as outlined as part of the seminal Grainger PLC v Nicholson (2010) criteria of what qualifies as a ‘philosophical belief’ to be protected under the Equality Act, Judge King said:
‘We discussed the claimant’s beliefs and we were satisfied that the claimant genuinely held these beliefs and that they formed a considerable part of how he lived his life as a Christian minister for his Church. To the claimant they were cogent, serious and of the upmost importance.’
‘We spent more time considering the last of the Grainger requirements and whether all of the claimant’s beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society and in particular his views on sexual relationships being only within heterosexual marriage as these may be said to conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
‘However, it is clear that the same could be said about some other aspects of Christianity which could conflict with other religions. This does not mean that they are not capable of being respected. Whilst a majority may not share those views, the claimant is entitled to hold them. This is of course different to how those beliefs manifest themselves and to the specific issues in this case.’
Furthermore, she said: ‘Beliefs which are offensive, shocking or even disturbing to others can still be protected.’
Relieved and delighted
Responding to the outcome Pastor Waters said:
“I am relieved and pleased with the outcome. This is a victory, not just for me, but for Christian evangelical leaders across the country.
“I pray that this ruling will help protect Pastors in the future that have to work part time in other jobs to make up their income. This is an important win for our freedom to speak the truth of the gospel without fear of losing our jobs.
“I took legal action, not because I wanted to sue the school, but because what happens to me goes to the heart of what it means to be free to preach the gospel in the UK. I believed the issues my case raised were much bigger than anything that was happening to me and that it was the right thing to do.
“Despite knowing this was the right thing to do, this whole episode has left me in some emotional turmoil and has taken a lasting toll on me and my family. In 37 years of employment, I have never been treated in such a heartless and hostile way. The freedom to resign from your job or be silenced from speaking as a Christian pastor is no freedom at all.
“I still stand by what I said, and I’ll always stand up for the truth. I believe that children’s safety is paramount, and that everyone, but especially Christian pastors, must be able to voice concerns and ‘raise red flags’ where children may be at risk”.
“Anyone who attends a ‘Pride’ event risks being exposed to obscenities. That is self-evidently harmful for children and in a free, responsible and truly loving society we must be free to say that and raise concern without fear.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “We are happy that Keith has finally received justice in this crucial case for Christian freedom.
“For loving Jesus, speaking biblical truth, and caring for the welfare of children, Keith became persona non grata – his words and intentions distorted, his character assassinated.
“Our schools and churches need more community-minded people like him, not less. For sending one tweet, that raised genuine concern for children, he was vilified, threatened and hounded out of his employment.
“Despite an abundance of psychological studies concluding that children exposed to sexually explicit content at an early age are more likely to develop disorders and addictions, there are many articles online that encourage parents to bring their children to Pride parades.
“Why should a Christian pastor not be able to speak out on such concerning issues without being threatened and losing his job?
“What happened to Keith Waters is the latest in a long line of cases where honest, kind, normal people are subjected to harassment and intimidation for expressing moderate, mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics.”‘ For more of this story go to https://christianconcern.com/news/pastor-who-warned-against-lgbtq-pride-events-wins-discrimination-case/