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UK church sues city council for canceling 3-day conference over speaker’s views on homosexuality

UK church sues city council for canceling 3-day conference over speaker’s views on homosexuality

The Rev. Larry Stockstill addresses church members of the New Life Church Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007, in Colorado Springs, Colo. | (Photo: AP / Nathan W. Ames, Pool)

The Scotland-based Destiny Church is suing the Edinburgh city council over the cancellation of a three-day conference because the council objects to the participation of Louisiana pastor Larry Stockstill and his views on homosexuality. 

The Edinburgh Evening News reports that the multicampus Destiny Church launched legal action last week after the Edinburgh Council canceled the church’s June booking of the Edinburgh Usher Hall for its “Surge Conference.” 

A keynote speaker scheduled for the conference is Stockstill, the former pastor of the multicampus Bethany World Prayer Center in Louisiana, which is now led by his son, Jonathan. Stockstill also founded the Surge Project, a church planting network. 

Stockstill is also the author of the 2007 book He Teaches My Hands to War, in which he calls homosexuality “not normal behavior” and behavior that is “not accepted by God.”

Along with Stockstill, the head of the U.K.-based Evangelical Alliance, Gavin Calver, was also scheduled to speak. 

In January, the city council told The Sunday Times that it canceled the religious gathering over objections to previous comments Stockstill made about abortion and homosexuality. 

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The church is being represented by the Scottish law firm Lindsays, which argues that the council violated U.K. discrimination law as well as breached the European Convention on Human Rights by canceling the conference. 

"We understand that this is a fairly clear-cut breach of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the freedom of expression enshrined in ECHR,” Destiny Senior Pastor Andrew Owen told the Edinburgh Evening News. "Under the Equality Act 2010, the city of Edinburgh Council is also discriminating on the grounds of religious belief.”

"We organized an event, which we are free to do, at which speakers will express their religious views, as they are free to do,” Owen added. "It is unlawful for the city of Edinburgh to cancel an event because it determines that the views previously expressed by a speaker are not acceptable."

A city council spokesperson told the Edinburgh Evening News that the Destiny Church event was canceled “due to the keynote speaker’s publicly-stated views about same-sex relationships which are, in the council’s opinion, offensive and discriminatory.”

The spokesperson stressed that the council “will vigorously defend its position in order to protect and promote diversity and equal rights for all.”

“We are committed to promoting diversity and equal rights for all,” the spokesperson continued. “The proposed event did not meet the standards which we expect from those hiring and visiting our venues to respect and observe and the booking was therefore canceled."

The nondenominational Christian charity the Christian Institute announced its support for Destiny Church’s lawsuit last week. 

Ciarán Kelly, Christian Institute’s deputy director for communications, said the church has “a strong case which they should win.” He said the case seeks to “resist the marginalization of Christians in the U.K.”

“This is a clear case of unlawful religious discrimination under the Equality Act 2010,” Kelly said in a statement. “It is a clear denial of free speech under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Destiny Church’s lawsuit comes as U.S. evangelical leader Franklin Graham, the son of the late Billy Graham, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association filed legal action against three event venues for their cancellations of May events due to Graham’s views on homosexuality.

“If Destiny Church or the BGEA can be banned from hiring public venues today, the same could be true for other Christian groups tomorrow,” Kelly contended. “We do not want that to happen.”

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