The U.K.'s top Muslim organization has said that U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham should be denied a visa to the country for his "hatred" and "bigotry."
"In the past the government has banned individuals whom they claim are 'not conducive to the public good'. Mr Graham's remarks are on record and clearly demonstrate a hatred for Muslims and other minorities," the Muslim Council of Britain said on Sunday, as reported by The Guardian.
"We would expect the government to apply its criteria here. If it does not, it will send a clear message that it is not consistent in challenging all forms of bigotry."
British politicians, including a government whip, and even some churches have all raised concerns over Graham being invited to preach at a Christian festival in Blackpool later in September.
Graham has criticized Islam in his rhetoric, especially in the wake of terror attacks around the world, and has backed U.S. President Donald Trump's hard stance on immigration.
The evangelist, who is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has in the past denied any notions that he is planning on preaching hate against Muslims or any other minorities at the upcoming Festival of Hope.
"I'm not coming to preach hate, I'm here to preach about a savior, Jesus Christ who can make a difference in our lives if we put our faith and trust in Him," Graham told Premier in an interview in January.
"We're not here to preach against anyone, we're here to talk about God," he affirmed.
Gordon Marsden, the Labour MP for Blackpool South, is understood to be planning to write to Sajid Javid, the home secretary, calling on Graham to be denied a visa.
The Blackpool event has also prompted a backlash from LGBT groups. Back in July, Blackpool Transport banned ads on its buses that promoted the Festival of Hope, set to take place between September 21-23, explaining that it had received complaints that the preacher might promote "hate and homophobia" at the event.
Graham responded to that controversy as well, and posted on Facebook:
"I'm sorry that some see hope as offensive, but I can assure you that tens of thousands of people in Blackpool and across the United Kingdom are searching for hope."
"Sex, drugs, money, even religion — none of these are the answer. I'm coming to share with everyone in Blackpool, Lancashire, and across North West England that there is One who can give you hope," Graham added at the time. "Hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity. His name is Jesus Christ!"
A number of local churches have said that they will hold services specifically welcoming LGBT worshipers during the weekend of Graham's visit, however.
Pastor Ron Farrington of the independent evangelical Crossgate church in Preston explained why his church will not be participating in the festival:
"I believe Franklin Graham will come to teach the Gospel, but many people are upset by his comments and I cannot stand by those comments."
Others, such as the Anglican bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, said that she holds a "neutral position" toward Graham
"I must be very clear ... I do not support any kind of hate speech, including the language of Islamophobia, Christianophobia or homophobia. There is a difference between having a different point of view and expressing hate," Henderson stated.
"Within the Christian ethic there is no room for hate of another person and I do not defend the use of such language."
In April, 2017, some conservative evangelicals in Norway withdrew their support for an evangelistic event featuring Graham due to his support for Trump.
"The pastors, center-right politicians, and evangelical groups pulling their support were the original organizers of the event with deep historical ties and theological connections to Billy Graham and his ministry. But they believe Graham's statements over the last few months no longer reflect a message based on the Gospel," Stefan Fisher-Høyrem, a historian in the Department of Religion, Philosophy, and History at the University of Agder, Norway, wrote at the time.
Separately, some Baptist groups in Puerto Rico also took aim at Graham's backing of Trump and his policies, such as the halting of refugee resettlement programs.
Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico Executive Minister Roberto Dieppa-Báez and President Margarita Ramirez wrote in February 2017 that they "cannot agree with the expressions of Trump as they attack the life of our neighbor and Jesus has always called us to love even enemies and to be our brother's keeper."
Graham, who took part in an evangelistic rally in San Juan at the time, warned Puerto Ricans that "God uses extreme vetting."
"My purpose for going is to help Puerto Ricans 'immigrate' from Earth to Heaven one day. I want Puerto Ricans, by the thousands — and people everywhere — to have their immigration status in Heaven stamped and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ for all eternity," Graham wrote.