UK Employment Tribunal Upholds Pastor’s Religious Freedom

UK Employment Tribunal Upholds Pastor’s Religious Freedom

An employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has ruled in favor of Pastor Keith Waters, securing a win in “this crucial case for Christian freedom,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.

The pastor of New Connexions Free Church in Ely, Cambridgeshire, Waters supplemented his income by working part time as a school caretaker at the Isle of Ely Primary School. But in 2019, the school punished Waters for sharing his Biblical beliefs about sexual morality.

On June 1, 2019, Waters posted the following on Twitter:

“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.”

Within minutes of posting, Waters was hounded by a local journalist accusing him of attacking the LGBTQ community. And two days later, he was featured on the front page of The Cambridge Evening News.

Not long after, Isle of Ely’s headteacher told Waters that he would be investigated for bringing the school “into disrepute” after receiving multiple complaints from parents and LGBTQ activists.

Waters said that throughout the investigation, he was shunned, avoided by senior management and prevented from carrying out some of his regular duties. The investigation resulted in Waters being told that his tweet was “highly inappropriate and offensive” and that he had broken the school’s code of conduct. The school gave him a final written warning, but by that time, Waters had come to the conclusion that he could no longer work at Isle of Ely as a Bible-believing Christian. He resigned. 

Waters then sued the school for constructive dismissal, indirect discrimination and breach of public sector equality duty.

In her April 21 ruling, Employment Judge Sarah King clarified, “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. 

“… 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.

“… 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.”

Responding to the ruling, Waters expressed his relief and thankfulness:

“This is a victory, not just for me, but for Christian evangelical leaders across the country,” he said.

“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.

“… 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.”

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Concern

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