A judge ruled Thursday that the seaside town of Blackpool, England, discriminated on religious grounds against a Christian festival featuring evangelist Franklin Graham when it removed promotional ads from buses that read “Time for Hope.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, for which Graham serves as CEO, said in a statement the judge’s ruling was a “strong and clear rebuke of the cancel culture sweeping the U.K.”
The case involved the 2018 Lancashire Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham. The Blackpool Borough Council and Blackpool Transport Services Limited removed the bus ads after LGBTQ activists complained about Graham’s biblical belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
“We thank God for this ruling because it is a win for every Christian in the U.K.,” Graham said.
Manchester County Court Judge Claire Evans said the borough council’s actions “discriminated on the ground of religion.”
The bus ads were posted on July 2, 2018, and removed a day later.
The judge said the town violated the U.K.’s Equality Act 2010 by discriminating against religious views.
The BGEA explained: “A Twitter pile-on from LGBT activists pressured Blackpool into removing the bus ads because of Franklin Graham’s religious beliefs on marriage. But the judge ruled that sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage—which are characteristic of Christians and other religions—does not make the individuals or organizations who hold them ‘extremist.’ They are entitled to the same nondiscrimination and freedom of expression protection as those with other views.”
James Barrett, chairman of the board of directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association U.K., said the ruling “confirms that all Christians in the U.K. have the right to share their beliefs in the public square without being discriminated against or interfered with by public officials and other groups that want to silence them.”
“I am grateful the courts have once again reiterated that the freedom to speak only what is not offensive is not freedom of speech at all,” he said.
The judge decided Blackpool “had a wholesale disregard” for the rights of the local Lancashire Festival.
More than 9,000 people attended the event in person, with another 50,000 online.
The judge’s noted that members of the Blackpool council exchanged messages calling Graham and his views “repulsive.”
Councilors also discussed how they could let the LGBTQ activists know they stood with them.
One councilor said Graham “has said some truly appalling things, and has caused deep offense to many different groups.”
Managers of the transportation company admitted they were influenced by activists who complained loudly and often about Graham’s religious views, which they opposed.
The judge said: “The defendants had a wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression possessed by the claimant. It gave a preference to the rights and opinions of one part of the community without having any regard for the rights of the claimant or those who shared its religious beliefs. It made no effort to consider whether any less intrusive interference than removing the advertisements altogether would meet its legitimate aim.”
Last year, eight venues in England canceled events with Graham because of his views on sexuality and marriage. More than 2,000 churches in Britain responded by declaring their support for Graham.
The venues had claimed the Graham tour would have a “divisive impact.” But BGEA argued that “in nearly 70 years of public evangelistic outreach ministry, there is no evidence whatsoever that any BGEA event involving Franklin Graham has ever caused a danger to public safety or incited public disorder.”
BGEA said the cancellations were “clear efforts to distance the decision-makers from BGEA, Franklin Graham and other Christians who hold similar beliefs.”
“There is no question that this was done under pressure from those with opposing views who have demonstrated a relatively predictable pattern of harassment and bullying of those doing business with BGEA.”
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