Scottish venue must pay over $100K for canceling Franklin Graham evangelism event

Rev. Franklin Graham speaks during his 'Decision America' California tour at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds on May 29, 2018, in Turlock, California.
Rev. Franklin Graham speaks during his "Decision America" California tour at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds on May 29, 2018, in Turlock, California. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A Scottish court has ruled that an event venue must pay over $111,000 (£97,000) for canceling a 2020 evangelistic outreach featuring American evangelist Franklin Graham over his views on issues like homosexuality and Islam.

In a judgment issued by Sheriff John N. McCormick of Glasgow on Monday, Scottish Event Campus Limited was ruled to have violated the United Kingdom's Equality Act because it canceled an event hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in January 2020. 

"It is accepted that the event was a lawful evangelical outreach event. I therefore begin with a discrete issue which alone, in my opinion, constitutes a breach of the Equality Act 2010," McCormick judged.

"Briefly put, if it is correct that the event was evangelistic, based on religion or philosophical belief, then it follows that the decision to cancel was a breach of the Equality Act 2010 in that the event was cancelled as a commercial response to the views of objectors."

McCormick said that the venue "discriminated against the [BGEA] on the basis of a protected characteristic" and put the damages due to the cancellation at $111,503.19 (£97,325.32).

"In short, pressure was put on the defender by its majority shareholder to cancel the booking as it may offend others. The effect of writing in such terms was not to protect one group from another but to prefer one opinion over another," he continued.

"I heard no evidence to suggest that Franklin Graham had intended to pursue a toxic or dangerous agenda at the event. On the contrary, it is not disputed that the event would have been an evangelical outreach event for up to twelve thousand people. That is not to say that his opinions are not offensive to some whether in Glasgow or elsewhere. However, the pursuer's right to engage a speaker at the evangelical event — in furtherance of a religious or philosophical belief — is protected by law."

On Tuesday, Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, said he is "grateful to God for this decision." He views the ruling as "a clear victory for freedom of speech and religion in the UK."

"This case was never about financial remedies — it was about the preservation of religious freedom in the UK — particularly the right for Christians to share the Gospel in the public square," stated Graham.

"I want to thank Sheriff John McCormick for upholding the law and affirming that Christians must be treated fairly and equally. This ruling will be a great encouragement for Christians and people of all faiths across the UK and many other parts of the world."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Event Campus told BBC that the organization is "naturally disappointed in the outcome of the case."

"We are currently reviewing the extensive documentation to determine whether any further action is required," the spokesperson added.

In 2020, before the pandemic lockdowns began, multiple venues in the U.K. canceled BGEA events that were part of the BGEA's "God Loves You" tour. BGEA maintains that those contracts were legally binding. The organization rescheduled the tour events, which took place earlier this year. 

At issue was Graham's opposition to homosexuality and dislike of Islam, which some British activists and groups viewed as hateful in nature.

Last December, the Scottish charity The Robertson Trust, which canceled bookings made by a local church and the BGEA scheduled for 2019, offered an official apology for violating the Equality Act. The group paid £20,000 (about $26,500) towards legal expenses as part of a settlement.

Mark Batho, chair of the board of trustees at The Robertson Trust, said in a statement last year that his organization had "inadvertently breached the Equality Act 2010."

"The Trust's long standing funding policy (1) legitimately states that we do not fund or support the promotion of any particular religious or political beliefs," Batho stated.

"We recognise that in applying our funding policy to the hire of our facilities, which are available at substantially subsidised rates to charities and community groups, we inadvertently breached the Equality Act 2010."

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