When I was called to the Bar in 1988 it would have been inconceivable that the notion that hours of court time would be spent on arguing whether the Christian view that God created men and women and that marriage is a lifelong union of one man and woman, were beliefs “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
But in 2022 – 12 years since the passing of the Equality Act – that is the position in which Christians regularly find themselves.
Last week, an employment tribunal judge ruled that the Christian beliefs of Pastor Keith Waters are protected under the law.
Waters’ story is not dissimilar to hundreds of clients that have come to the Christian Legal Centre. Hard working, respected and loved by not only his church but his secular employer he was forced to choose between faith and employment.
It is now a regular occurrence whereby normal Christian people are subjected to harassment, intimidation and ultimately the loss of their job for expressing moderate, mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics.
In 2019, Waters was hounded out of his part-time school caretaker job for a single tweet that warned parents not to attend an annual LGBT Pride event because of the harm it might do to their children.
A social media maelstrom followed the tweet including funeral directors turning up at his home to discuss arrangements for his ”funeral”. He soon became persona non grata in his local community – his words and intentions distorted, his character assassinated.
However, in the tribunal judgment, judge Sarah King ruled that Waters had been discriminated against by the school and that his freedom of speech outside work had been curtailed. In line with the guidance set out in the 2010 cased of Grainger PLC v Nicholson on what qualifies as a “philosophical belief”, King ruled that the tribunal was “satisfied that the claimant genuinely held these beliefs and that they formed a considerable part of how he lived his life as a Christian minister for his church”.
The judge went on to say that the tribunal assessed “whether all of the claimant’s beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society and in particular his views on sexual relationships being only within heterosexual marriage as these may be said to conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.
And the ruling found that “it is clear that the same could be said about some other aspects of Christianity, which could conflict with other religions. This does not mean that they are not capable of being respected”.
In a democratic and dignified society, there must be the freedom to express orthodox Christian beliefs on social media without the fear of losing your job, and, you would hope, without having funeral directors turn up on your doorstep.
Andrea Williams is the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre