British city apologizes, pays fine after scrapping ads for evangelical preacher Franklin Graham
Britain's city of Blackpool must apologize for removing ads for evangelical preacher Franklin Graham from public buses; it had to admit the act was discrimination and pay the organizers of a festival 109,000 British pounds (about $150,000), a judge has ruled.
"We sincerely apologize to the organizers of the event for the upset and inconvenience caused," Counsellor Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council, wrote on the city's website on July 9 following a court ruling in April.
Graham, the son of the late tele-evangelist Billy Graham, said, "We thank God for this ruling because it is a win for every Christian in the UK," the evangelical publication Decision reported.
In July 2018, promotional bus adverts for the Lancashire Festival of Hope with Graham in Blackpool were removed by Blackpool Borough Council and Blackpool Transport Services Limited because they asserted that the ads "resulted in heightened tension."
At the time, the decision was reported as in response to what the transportation company said was "customer and public feedback," expressing disapproval of Franklin Graham's Biblical views about sexuality and marriage.
The court found that the ads in the northern English city had been inoffensive, simply reading "Lancashire Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham–Time for Hope," along with the date, venue, and website for the event.
Judge Claire Evans wrote, "Graham's religious beliefs include that - God's plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage - marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.
"These are religious beliefs shared by the organizers of the Festival and the trustees of the Claimant and, indeed, by many Christians of different denominations."
She noted that Graham had been accused in a September 2018 article in The Guardian newspaper of having a "track record of homophobic and Islamophobic comments."
She said, however, that the transportation company had a "wholesale disregard" for the Lancashire Festival of Hope's right to freedom of expression.
It had also violated the UK's Equality Act of 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of religion or belief.
Judge Evans noted that sincerely held traditional religious beliefs about marriage, which are characteristic of Christians and other religions, do not make the individuals or organizations who have them "extremist."
'SIGNIFICANT DAY FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY'
"It is a significant day for religious liberty and freedom of speech," said James Barrett, chairman of the board of directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK.
"... 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 in the trial showed Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services Limited deliberately favored one group over another while seeking to maintain that they were neutral.
But internal emails showed officials expressing their disapproval of Graham and looking for a legal reason to stop the advertising campaign, even though around 200 local churches supported it.
Barrett said, "The judge summarized it best in her ruling when she said, 'This is the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democratic society.'"
The court calculated the cost of removing the bus ads at 84,000 pounds for the Lancashire City's Festival of Hope's legal fees and an additional 25,000 for "just satisfaction," because the city violated the UK Human Rights Act of 1998
Judge Claire Evans handed down the terms on July 16, with agreement from both sides, said Christianity Today.
"A pluralistic, tolerant society allows for the expression of many different and sometimes diametrically opposed beliefs," the judge wrote.
The city published the apology on its website and must pay the fines in one week.
The court calculated the cost of removing the bus ads at 84,000 pounds for the Lancashire City's Festival of Hope's legal fees and an additional 25,000 for "just satisfaction" because the city violated the UK Human Rights Act of 1998.
When the city removed the ads, it claimed this was necessary because of "heightened tension" caused by Graham's position on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues.
But internal emails showed officials expressing their disapproval of Graham and looking for a legal reason to stop the advertising campaign for the event, supported by around 200 local churches.
"We accept that the advertisements were not in themselves offensive. We further accept that in removing the advertisements, we did not take into account the fact that this might cause offense to other members of the public and suggest that some voices should not be heard," said the Blackpool Council leader said.
"We also regret that we did not consult with the organizers prior to making our decision.