School had ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to ‘Pride harms children’ post, tribunal told

·4 min read

A pastor who tweeted that Pride events were “harmful to children” has said he was forced to leave his job as a caretaker because the school he worked for had a “knee-jerk” reaction to the post.

Keith Waters, 55, claims his role at the Isle of Ely Primary School in Cambridgeshire, where he was well-known to children and parents, became “untenable” after the comment in June 2019.

There were three complaints to the school, where his views were branded “extremist”, “abhorrent” and a “disgusting outburst on a very public platform”, but Mr Waters, who has been an evangelical church minister for up to 15 years, told an employment tribunal that his comments were in line with his conservative Christian beliefs.

Mr Waters, from Ely, who is claiming direct and indirect discrimination plus constructive dismissal, believes the school’s investigation of the complaints was flawed because it “applied things that were not to do with the tweet to me”.

(Keith Waters/Christian Concern/PA)
(Keith Waters/Christian Concern/PA)

He told the hearing in Cambridge: “I see that some (people) were offended. I do not see in the investigation or in the notes that there is any sense that the tweet itself caused an issue.

“I believe the way that it was managed by the school caused an issue.

“The way the school decided that the easiest and the fastest thing to do would be to slap down my ability to have my rights to live as a Christian, and certainly as a Christian pastor.

“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.”

The Twitter post, which coincided with the first Cambridge Pride festival, said: “A reminder that Christians should not support or attend the LGBTQ ‘pride month’ events in June.

“They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Christian faith and morals.

“They are especially harmful for children.”

Mr Waters worked part-time as a caretaker at the school from January 2017 and resigned in June 2019, just weeks after posting the now-deleted tweet.

He said his aim was 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 that the complaints included allegations, which Mr Waters denies, of child molestation, inciting people from other faiths and calling for violence against supporters of the Pride festival.

Reaction to the post had included a local Liberal Democrat councillor calling for an apology but “there was not a backlash to the school – there was a backlash to me and around me”, according to Mr Waters.

In his witness statement, Mr Waters said he had endured “a campaign of harassment and abuse against me, my family, and my church” after the publicity surrounding his post.

This included hate messages sent to his own and the church’s email addresses, undertakers turning up at his home to arrange his funeral, and a visit from estate agents who had been asked to sell his house.

Mr Waters handed in his notice and attended a disciplinary hearing that resulted in a final written warning, against which he unsuccessfully appealed.

His tweet was branded “anti-LGBTQ” by those who complained to the school who felt it was homophobic, but Mr Waters insisted this was not the case.

He told the tribunal: “She (the investigator) is saying I can live out my faith but it is curtailed by the school’s policies where they wish it to be curtailed.

“The concern is that this is really a subjective thing.”

He added that “the problem of having my faith limited by the school’s policies is a big problem, not just for me but for anybody of any faith”.

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.

Feeling unable to do his job fully or talk about what was happening to the children or the parents “while all this was going on” made it “impossible” to stay, he said.

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.”

Ms Fielding, who accepted that Mr Waters has a right to freedom of speech and religion under the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), added: “I upheld them.

“His beliefs were never in question or asked to be silenced – they just caused the school to go into disrepute.”

The hearing was adjourned to Wednesday.

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