An Employment Tribunal has ruled in favour of a pastor who was forced to resign from his job as a caretaker at a primary school after tweeting that LGBT Pride events are harmful and should not be attended by Christians and children.
Employment Judge King ruled that Keith Waters, 55, had been discriminated against when he was given a final written warning by the school for the 2019 tweet.
In the ruling, Judge King said it was "highly relevant" to the case that the tweet had been made outside of work on his personal account as part of his role as a Christian minister.
"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," the judge said.
"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.
"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."
She said it was "not proportionate" of the school to act in the way it did and that "beliefs which are offensive, shocking or even disturbing to others can still be protected".
The Tribunal considered whether Pastor Waters' views on same-sex marriage might conflict with the fundamental rights of others, but Judge King concluded 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. Whilst a majority may not share those views, the claimant is entitled to hold them. This is of course different to how those beliefs manifest themselves and to the specific issues in this case," she said.
Responding to the verdict, Pastor Waters said he was "relieved and pleased".
"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.
"Despite knowing this was the right thing to do, this whole episode has left me in some emotional turmoil and has taken a lasting toll on me and my family. In 37 years of employment, I have never been treated in such a heartless and hostile way. The freedom to resign from your job or be silenced from speaking as a Christian pastor is no freedom at all.
"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.
"Anyone who attends a 'Pride' event risks being exposed to obscenities. That is self-evidently harmful for children and in a free, responsible and truly loving society we must be free to say that and raise concern without fear."
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Pastor Waters, said it was a "crucial case for Christian freedom".
"For loving Jesus, speaking biblical truth, and caring for the welfare of children, Keith became persona non grata – his words and intentions distorted, his character assassinated," she said.
"Our schools and churches need more community-minded people like him, not less. For sending one tweet, that raised genuine concern for children, he was vilified, threatened and hounded out of his employment.
"Despite an abundance of psychological studies concluding that children exposed to sexually explicit content at an early age are more likely to develop disorders and addictions, there are many articles online that encourage parents to bring their children to Pride parades.
"Why should a Christian pastor not be able to speak out on such concerning issues without being threatened and losing his job?
"What happened to Keith Waters is the latest in a long line of cases where honest, kind, normal people are subjected to harassment and intimidation for expressing moderate, mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics."