Pastor in freedom of speech and job fight over Pride tweet
- Credit: ARCHANT
Ely Pride in the summer of 2019 has proven to be a pivotal moment in the career of Keith Waters.
It culminated in an employment tribunal at Cambridge in recent days over a constructive dismissal claim against the Isle of Ely Primary School where he had worked part time as a caretaker.
He was also pastor of the New Connexions Church, supplementing his modest income from the small Christian charity with that from the school.
And it was a tweet by Mr Waters about Pride that enraged the school.
The tribunal was told that the tweet which claimed Pride events were “harmful to children” had caused widespread offence.
Helen Davies, at the time head of Isle of Ely Primary School, described the June 2019 comments, as an "unprovoked attack".
But she said a subsequent investigation and disciplinary action against Mr Waters was "never, ever, ever" about his religion.
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Mr Waters, 55, who says his job as a caretaker became "untenable", is claiming direct and indirect discrimination and constructive dismissal against the Active Learning Trust, which runs the school, and against Ms Davies.
Mrs Davies told the employment tribunal: "It was because he had broken the policies.
"Anyone who had tweeted something - it doesn't matter who they are, what their role is, what their beliefs are - if they tweet something that actually then causes offence and brings the school into disrepute, they have broken the codes of conduct and the policies that exist within the school.
"It doesn't matter whether I agreed with him or didn't agree with him, the point of the disciplinary is 'were these codes of conduct broken' and that is it.
"It was never, ever, ever about his religion”
Ely Cathedral had acknowledged Pride, agreeing to allow its Octagon Tower to be lit up in rainbow colours to celebrate.
The Very Revd Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely Cathedral, said: "We are very pleased to support Pride in Ely because we want to celebrate all God's children.
"Everybody is made in the image of God. We don't discriminate through age, colour, creed, sexual identity or anything else."
But Pastor Waters was neither happy or amused.
He tweeted his opposition- and his caved in on him, putting in train events that led him to quit the school and in 2020 to move to Surrey as pastor of an evangelical church at Carshalton.
Ostensibly the tweet that rebounded on Keith upheld evangelical thinking.
“A reminder that Christians should not support or attend LGBT+ Pride events,” he tweeted.
“They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Christian values and morals. They are especially harmful to children.”
I tweeted a response, pointing out that I felt such views had been confined to the history books and questioned if he had “heaped abuse, by the bucket load, on your community”.
Mr Waters replied that “John, I guess the reality is that I had no intention of doing what you say but was unwise in copying a tweet on the fly, without enough thought or care.
“I can see that Twitter may well not be for me and also that modern communication can lead to sloppy communication”.
But Mr Waters didn’t leave Twitter (he’s still there today) and in a further response added that “orthodox Christianity hasn’t changed on homosexual practice. ‘Love the sinner but the sin’.
“Sorry you think us extremists”.
Pastor Waters resigned from New Connexions in March, 2020, but remained preaching online until September of that year before moving to Carshalton.
Mr Waters, who worked at the school from January 2017 and resigned in June 2019, weeks after posting the now-deleted tweet.
He said his aim had been to warn Christians about LGBTQ+ Pride events as they may involve nudity, people in sadomasochistic outfits, and displays of an overtly sexual nature.
The tribunal heard the complaints to the school included unfounded allegations linking Mr Waters to child abuse and calling for violence against supporters of the Pride festival.
Mr Waters was stopped from working at the school gates amid mounting hostility in the community and after telling Mrs Davies he had received death threats.
She told the hearing: "He did say to me that there had been an extreme amount of hostility to him in the wider community. He told me had death threats.”
Mr Waters says he felt unable to do his job fully or talk about what was happening to the children or the parents.
He handed in his notice and attended a disciplinary hearing that resulted in a final written warning, against which he appealed unsuccessfully.
Mr Water has been assisted by the legal team at evangelical campaign group Christian Concern.
They claim the school interfered with his rights to freedom of religion, expression and thought.
Andrea Williams, chief executive at Christian Concern says Mr Waters has received "character assassination" for his Christian beliefs.
"We live in a world where even questioning the LGBTQ agenda can land you in serious trouble.
"Why should a Christian pastor not be able to speak out on such concerning issues without being threatened and losing his job?
"Keith's story is part of a cancel culture where issues, such as LGBTQ pride, cannot be questioned or critiqued without individuals being silenced, vilified or worse."
Mr Waters meanwhile believes the school's investigation of the complaints surrounding him was flawed because it "applied things that were not to do with the tweet to me".
He told the hearing: “I think the school seemed to have a rather knee-jerk reaction. “To not have discussed it with me in the first place was rather surprising."
Stephen Peacock, representing the Active Learning Trust which runs the school, told Mr Waters it should be possible to live one's life and practise one's faith without circulating harassing, homophobic or discriminatory or offensive material.
Mr Waters said he carried out a range of roles at the school, including taking religious lessons and sometimes helping to protect staff from children who were violent.
Deputy headteacher Laura Fielding, who carried out the investigation, described Mr Waters as being "challenging" and unapologetic about his comments or the controversial spotlight it had thrown on the school.
The tweet had provoked "significant" negative publicity, in the local press and online, and the school had to investigate because it had received complaints from parents.
Ms Fielding, who said she kept her personal opinion out of the investigation, added: "The LGBTQ community put on these events to celebrate. Criticising these events and saying they are harmful to children was discriminatory against the LGBT community."
The outcome of the tribunal will be announced at a later date.