An evangelical church and an association founded by the late Billy Graham has launched legal action against Scotland's largest charitable trust after it canceled a rental agreement over the church's views on same-sex marriage.
Stirling Free Church and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which continues the work of the late American preacher, are suing the Robertson Trust, a poverty relief agency linked to one of the country's best-known whisky producers, UK's The Times newspaper reported April 14.
The evangelical groups, which oppose same-sex marriage, claim that contracts to use rooms owned by the trust were canceled because of objections to their beliefs.
Stirling Free Church had a contract to use premises owned by the multimillion-dollar Robertson Trust for its Sunday services.
But when trust chairwoman Shonaig Macpherson learned of the agreement, the contract was terminated. Macpherson reportedly objected to the church's biblical belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, the UK-based Christian Institute reported.
RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION REJECTED
The allegations of religious discrimination are firmly rejected by the charity, which gives away about 20 million British pounds ($28 million) a year, The Times reported.
It distributes dividends from its controlling stake in the whisky firm Edrington, which owns brands such as The Famous Grouse and Macallan.
According to Christian Today, the Christian Institute, which is defending the BGEA and the church, says that contracts signed when booking for church services and a BGEA conference permitted the use of the premises "for public worship and delivery of religious instruction".
Glasgow Sheriff Court was scheduled to hear the case in the following week.
The Christian Institute said it is unlawful for providers of venue facilities to discriminate against people because of their religious beliefs.
'RELIGIOUS BELIEF ON MARRIAGE'
"The UK courts say the religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman is protected under equality and human rights law," says the institute.
When asked why the contract for the Barracks in Stirling had been terminated, the trust claimed it had a policy preventing it from letting space for activities promoting religion or politics.
However, when the church wrote to the Trust asking for a copy of the policy, the Head of Finance revealed that no "explicit policy" existed and decisions were made "on a case by case basis."
The institute quoted Stirling Free Church minister Rev. Iain MacAskill as saying, "We are a thriving church that welcomes all people and preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were shocked to be told we could no longer use the Barracks for our Sunday services.
"We had negotiated with the Trust in good faith, and their contract expressly refers to us using the premises for religious worship.
"The Free Church believes marriage is between a man and a woman – a mainstream Christian belief shared with the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland and the (Anglican) Church of England.
MacAskill said his church had no problems with Trust staff during its negotiations.
"The staff seemed embarrassed when they had to tell us they were terminating our arrangement. We have had no other option but to resort to legal action," said the church minister.