A British Evangelical pastor who was forced out of his job as a primary school caretaker after posting a tweet warning parents against exposing their children to nudity and sex at LGBT Pride events had his case heard this week at an employment tribunal in Cambridge.
Pastor Keith Waters' troubles began after he posted a tweet on June 1, 2019, that said: “A reminder that Christians should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Christian faith and morals. They are especially harmful to children."
Waters, 55, had felt called to work as a caretaker at the Isle of Ely Primary School and pastor New Connexions Free Church, which entailed him leaving a church he'd pastored for over a dozen years and his job as an estates manager at a college at Cambridge University. The calling also meant he'd be taking a 60% reduction in salary and moving his family 100 miles across the country.
The pastor said he had enjoyed his new job at the school, where he implemented fire safety policies and taught gardening skills to at-risk teens who'd physically threatened teachers.
Prior to the tweet that stirred controversy, Waters was well-liked at the Isle of Ely Primary School where, in a final appraisal, he was described by management as being "an asset to the school," according to the Christian Legal Centre, which is representing his case against the Active Learning Trust, his former employer that oversees the primary school.
After the tweet, he was admonished by colleagues who said his words were "highly inappropriate and offensive" and accused of having broken the code of conduct. He was subsequently slapped with a written warning and stripped of his regular duties.
The pastor said he and his family also received death threats and harassment at his home.
“The whole episode left me in emotional turmoil and has taken a lasting toll on me and my family,” Waters said of the school’s response to his tweet ahead of this week's hearing.
“In 37 years of employment, I had never been treated in such an uncaring and hostile way. I was left with the choice of resigning or being silenced and unable to express my beliefs as a Christian pastor. ... Being given a final warning meant that I would not be able to do the things I do as a pastor, which is standing up for the truth of the Bible.”
In an earlier interview with Rebekah Moffett, communications officer for Christian Concern, Waters went into further detail about his intentions in posting the tweet and the backlash that followed:
It’s important here to be absolutely clear that my original, and ongoing, concern is not rooted in opinions on same-sex attraction — it has nothing to say about any individuals or groups of individuals who disagree with my orthodox Christian ethic. Rather, it is about protecting children from sexualization and alerting Christians to be wise about which social action is good to support.
The fact that I experienced the fallout I did, from what was, after all, a pretty unsurprising comment from a church pastor, is, I believe, rooted in the Pride movement’s deliberate spinning and softening of its image, by intentionally reaching families and children through shops, schools, libraries, drama groups, local authorities etc. which all portray Pride as just another festival and a fun event for all the family. However, Pride has at its center the celebration of all forms of sexuality and activity one can possibly imagine, and probably some that one can’t. If we add to that the images freely available, online or on mainstream media, showing high levels of nudity, sexual action, and generally crude and lewd behavior, then we see the fundamental nature and purpose of these events.
Waters' lawyers argued that he was wrongly punished for exercising his right to freedom of religion and expression of thought, which led to his resignation, Christian Concern said. His claim is for "constructive dismissal, indirect discrimination, and breach of public sector equality duty."
Lawyers also told the employment tribunal that precedent was set in the landmark high court ruling in the case of Felix Ngole that found "historic Christian views on sexual ethics should not be confused with homophobia or discrimination against homosexuals," Christian Concern added.
“I’m not doing this because I want to sue the school, but because I believe it’s the right thing to do," Waters added in his statement ahead of the hearing. "I want to ensure that other pastors in the future that have to work part time in a secular organization will be free to preach the truth and not lose their job."
“I still stand by what I said, and I’ll always stand up for the truth. I believe that children’s safety is paramount,” he continued.
Following his June 2019 tweet, some commenters responded by claiming his post was “homophobic,” and parents of students at the school reportedly filed complaints.
Stephen Peacock, who's representing the Active Learning Trust, shared a summary of one letter from a parent, telling The Telegraph: “The parent is disgusted that someone with such disgusting hateful views should be employed in a setting with impressionable children.”
Water said he found that those who were complaining had an “agenda,” and that many complaints came from outside the community.
“The parents who complained may have seen what I wrote but I believe it was informed by a whole lot of stuff that was nothing to do with the tweet,” Water said at his hearing, according to The Telegraph.
“It’s not about what I said, it’s about what happened around it. I didn’t talk about Pride month. I was talking about the events and things that are reported to happen at these events,” he added.
While some parents complained, Waters said in a statement this week that he also “had lots of parents pulling me to the side telling me that they supported me, but they wouldn’t dare say so out of fear that the social media mob would also turn on them.”
Waters reiterated that his reason for posting the tweet was to “address” and “warn” Christians about LGBT Pride events, which he said can include “nudity, people in sadomasochistic outfits" and people expressing themselves in an “overtly sexual nature.”
“I was addressing sexual activity and promiscuity in public. Whether it was heterosexual, or homosexual made no difference. It was about nudity,” he added, according to The Telegraph.
The Active Learning Trust was seeking to take disciplinary action against Waters because it said the tweet and subsequent fallout damaged the school’s reputation.
Waters said he felt like there was no other choice but to step down from his position as a school caretaker on June 24, 2019, one day prior to the school’s scheduled disciplinary proceedings.
John Elworthy, the editor of the Ely Standard, was among those who drew attention to the pastor's 2019 Twitter post that quickly made local and national headlines. The news editor asserted in a tweet that Waters was “attacking” the LGBT community in Ely prior to the Pride events that June.
The day after Elworthy's tweet, a Cambridge-based journalist confronted Waters as he was preparing his Sunday sermon in an attempt to force him to apologize for his Twitter post.
After that confrontation, Waters endured several incidents of harassment and attacks, including being pushed off his bike. He also faced a barrage of intimidation tactics, such as a rumor being started that he was a child molester, having funeral directors sent to his home to arrange his funeral, and real estate agents making arrangements to sell his home after receiving prank calls that he needed to move out of the area "in a hurry.”
Throughout the Active Learning Trust's investigation, disciplinary action and appeal from the school, Waters said it appeared as though the management seemed “unable to distinguish between homosexual people and LGBT Pride.”
“They are two separate things. There are many people with same-sex attraction who are totally opposed to what happens at Pride parades as one of the stated aims of the ‘Pride’ movement is to celebrate a wide variety of sexual lifestyles, which are diametrically opposed to Christian sexual ethics,” he asserted.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said that what happened to 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.”
“We live in a world where even questioning the LGBTQ agenda can land you in serious trouble,” she said. “This is another example of how far LGBTQ advocates are prepared to go to silence mainstream Christian views.”
“Anyone who believes in freedom of religion and expression should be very concerned about my story," Waters said in an earlier statement to Christian Concern. "This was an attack, not just against my Christian beliefs, but against anyone who dares to question these matters in public. The biggest concern should be that a story like mine is becoming normal."