UK Judge Rules in Favor of Franklin Graham’s Blackpool Festival

Ruling: Removing ads was the antithesis of how a public authority should behave

UK Judge Rules in Favor of Franklin Graham’s Blackpool Festival

Ruling: Removing ads was the antithesis of how a public authority should behave

In one of the most comprehensive rebukes of cancel culture in recent memory, a court in the United Kingdom affirmed April 1 that Christians and people of other faiths who hold traditional religious views about marriage and human sexuality are entitled to protection under the law.

Judge Claire Evans found that the defendants—the Blackpool Borough Council and its public transportation company—violated the U.K.’s Equality Act 2010 and discriminated against the Lancashire Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham when they removed bus advertisements for the event in response to complaints from the LGBTQ community about Franklin’s Biblical view of marriage. Evans said that the defendants’ actions were “the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democratic society.” 

The judge noted that sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage, which are characteristic of Christianity and other religions, do not make the individuals or organizations that hold them “extremist.”

Despite the removal of the bus ads, the Festival went on as planned in September 2018, with 9,000 attending and more than 400 making decisions for Christ during the three-day event. But after removing the ads—which simply said “Time for Hope!”—the Blackpool Council went on to light Blackpool’s famous tower in rainbow colors during the Festival, in another show of preference for the LGBTQ community over those who hold Biblical beliefs.

The case was delayed for several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it finally was heard in Manchester County Court in March.

“We thank God for this ruling because it is a win for every Christian in the U.K.,” Franklin said.

James Barrett, chairman of the board of directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK, added: “It is a significant day for religious liberty and freedom of speech. … The court in this case recognized that Blackpool’s Council cared more about not displeasing the LGBTQ community than upholding the rights of local churches to advertise a Christian festival of hope. The evidence presented during the trial clearly showed Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services Limited deliberately favored one group over another while seeking to maintain that they were being neutral. In doing so, the council failed in its duty to advance equal opportunities in the public sector to all of its residents.”

Legal experts note that the ruling has implications beyond this particular case.

“Religious liberty lawyers will certainly be citing this judgment in future cases and in legal correspondence with bodies that are discriminating against Christians to persuade them to back down,” said Tom Ellis, a partner at Ai Law in Liverpool, which represented the Lancashire Festival of Hope in the case.

Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at The Christian Institute, a U.K.-based charity, added: “This ruling is good news for the Good News. Lancashire Festival of Hope was an entirely positive presentation of the Gospel and had nothing to do with the controversies activists tried to link to it. Evangelistic events like this can go ahead in the future safe from hostile attempts by local councils to mute their message.

“This ruling is a warning to local authorities who don’t like Christians because of their beliefs about marriage. The message is clear: If you discriminate against us, you are breaking the law. The Festival’s bus adverts were agreed by all sides to be inoffensive. Yet Blackpool banned them, then lit up the Tower in rainbow colors during the Festival to show their solidarity with LGBT activists and their opposition to Christians.”

During the trial, the defendants suggested that Franklin Graham’s views on Islam also played a part in their decision to remove the bus ads. But the judge, noting that none of the email correspondence between Blackpool officials made any mention of Islam, found that “any reference in the pleadings to Islamophobia is a red herring calculated to deflect attention from the true reasons for the making of the decision …”

Ellis noted that the Blackpool decision follows several other recent court victories for Christian liberty in the U.K., including a Supreme Court decision in favor of a baker who refused to ice a cake with the message “Support gay marriage”; a successful case brought by church leaders against the Scottish government’s excessive and arbitrary lockdown laws; and a number of instances of police having to pay damages for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment of street preachers.

“The U.K. still enjoys religious freedom that most countries do not enjoy,” Ellis told Decision. “However, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and it is vital that Christians know how to wisely and boldly stand up for it. There will always be people seeking to take away freedom, and they must always be resisted. Cancel culture and the increasingly oppressive demands of certain activists to shut down orthodox Christian opinion and Judeo-Christian values are just the latest in a long line of attacks on Christian freedom. We must respond graciously but firmly and with trust in God.”

Comments From the Official Ruling

“The [Blackpool Borough Council] demonstrated an aversion and opposition to the particular religious beliefs of Franklin Graham, and a partiality for the
opposing view.”

“This is the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democratic society.”

“It is my judgment that the balance comes down overwhelmingly in favor of [the Lancashire Festival]. … The defendants had a wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression possessed by [the Festival].”

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