A British tribunal has ruled that an Evangelical pastor and ex-school caretaker who claims his former employer forced him to resign after he tweeted that LGBT pride month events are "harmful" to children and "contrary to Christian faith" experienced "indirect discrimination."
Pastor Keith Waters, 55, contends he had no other choice but to resign from his part-time caretaker role at the Isle of Ely primary school in 2019 following his tweet warning that Christians “should not support or attend” pride month events.
The Cambridge Employment Tribunal heard Waters’ discrimination case in January and issued a ruling on April 22.
The tribunal dismissed Waters' claims of "direct discrimination" and "constructive dismissal" but upheld his claim of "indirect discrimination in the imposition of the disciplinary sanction." However, the tribunal found that the imposition of the disciplinary sanction "post dates the resignation so cannot be the reason why the claimant resigned."
The judges found the fact that Waters made the tweet outside of work on his personal Twitter account as part of his role as a Christian minister "highly relevant." The body declared that 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."
The ruling noted that curtailing "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."
The ruling finds that Waters is "entitled" to hold his views on sexual relationships. Even if they may "conflict with the fundamental rights of others," "it is clear that the same could be said about some other aspects of Christianity which could conflict with other religions.”
The tribunal stated that Waters’ Christian beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
"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," the tribunal ruling led by Employment Judge King states. "In today's modern society social media is one medium in which these beliefs are preached which is good for spreading the word but puts the word in the public forum more and more accessibly."
Waters had argued that his sermons are also recorded and posted on the church's website and that there could be content in those sermons that others could find offensive and trigger a breach in the school's employment policies. The tribunal accepted that argument, saying that in theory, a member of the public could be a member of his church and "take offense such that anytime an evangelical Christian minister carried out his role he was at risk of a disciplinary sanction."
"There are other Christian Ministers with secular employment and it is a requirement that they preach the gospel to others," the ruling states.
"The respondent submitted that there is no evidence that any of the respondent’s other employees either shared the same belief or that they suffered a disadvantage because of it. We cannot accept that as we had no evidence of the religious beliefs of the respondent’s other employees as none was led. The policy we agree would apply to all but others would be disadvantaged by the PCP in the same way as the claimant if they hold the same beliefs as the claimant and then preach those beliefs and that resulted in a complaint to the School."
The tribunal rejected the claim of "direct discrimination" because he was not terminated and that others who would write a "similar post for non-religious reasons would be subject to the same treatment."
In a statement, Waters said he is "pleased with the outcome."
“This is a victory, not just for me, but for Christian Evangelical leaders across the country,” he said.
"The freedom to resign from your job or be silenced from speaking as a Christian pastor is no freedom at all."
Waters was represented by the Christian Legal Centre. The organization's chief executive Andrea Williams believes Waters "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," Williams said in a statement.
“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."
Willaims said 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."
"Why should a Christian pastor not be able to speak out on such concerning issues without being threatened and losing his job?” she added.
Waters said he felt “called” to the vocation as a caretaker at the Isle of Ely Primary School and to his other job doing pastoral ministry at Ely New Connexions Free Church.
When he first took both jobs, he had to go through a change in all his prior occupational pursuits to commit to both lines of work. He left his previous church, which was a place he had served for more than a decade. And he willingly terminated his work as an estates manager at a Cambridge University college.
The career change also meant a 60% reduction in salary and moving his family 100 miles across the country, Christian Concern reported.
Waters’ said that he is left with lasting “emotional turmoil" because of all that transpired.
“Despite knowing this was the right thing to do, this whole episode has taken a lasting toll on me and my family," he said. "In 37 years of employment, I have never been treated in such a heartless and hostile way."
Waters still believes “anyone who attends a Pride event risks being exposed to obscenities, that is self-evidently harmful for children.”
“In a free, responsible and truly loving society, we must be free to say that and raise concern without fear,” Waters said.
“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."
Waters hopes that the ruling may help pastors who might go through similar experiences.
“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,” Waters said.
“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."