UK Tribunal Rules for Pastor Whose Homophobic Tweet Led to Backlash

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday May 1, 2022
Originally published on May 1, 2022

Keith Waters
Keith Waters  

A UK tribunal has found that a pastor's "shocking" and "offensive" comments about Pride are still a protected form of speech, British newspaper the Daily Mail reported.

The saga began when Keith Waters, a 55-year-old evangelical pastor who also works at a primary school, sent out a tweet as a "'reminder that Christians should not support or attend LGBTQ "Pride Month" — a post that disregarded LGBTQ+ people of faith wholesale, and added, "They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Christian faith and morals."

The tweet went on to parrot the smear, unfounded but often used by the anti-gay right, that celebrations of LGBTQ+ community "are especially harmful to children."

"Mr Waters, who founded the New Connexions Free Church in Ely in 2007, made the tweet in June 2019 — the month Cambridge was hosting its first ever Pride event," the Daily Mail detailed.

The backlash that followed included action by Waters' employer, "Isle of Ely Primary School in Ely, Cambridgeshire," which "began an investigation," the Daily Mail recounted, "but the married father-of-one resigned three weeks after the tweet — a day before he was due to face a disciplinary hearing."

Though he did not face the school's investigation, the pastor took the matter to the Cambridge Employment Tribunal, where Judge Sarah King ruled in Waters' favor, saying, "Beliefs which are offensive, shocking or even disturbing to others can still be protected."

Calling the ruling "an important win for our freedom to speak the truth of the gospel without fear of losing our jobs," Waters said that the case "goes to the heart of what it means to be free to preach the gospel in the UK."

While people of faith who are also LGBTQ+ might have a different view of what the gospel has to say, the victory was, in any case, only partial: The tribunal set aside assertions that Waters was the victim of "direct discrimination and unfair dismissal".

Instead, the tribunal found that the school had subjected Waters to "indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief," the Daily Mail relayed.

Still, the Christian Legal Centre, which had been supportive of the claim, took the win, characterizing the case as one in which Waters' "words and intentions [had been] distorted, his character assassinated," the Daily Mail said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.