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UK Judge: Council Discriminated in Removing Bus Ads Promoting Franklin Graham Festival

A British judge has ruled a borough council and its transportation provider discriminated against Christians by removing bus ads promoting an event with evangelist Franklin Graham in the English seaside town of Blackpool.

The ads, which were briefly placed on public buses prior to Graham’s 2018 Lancashire Festival of Hope, were taken down after LGBTQ groups mounted a social media campaign that convinced the Blackpool Borough Council that Graham’s beliefs opposing same-sex marriage were offensive.

The bus ads never referred to Graham’s beliefs about marriage or human sexuality; they only offered details of the event with the slogan “Time for Hope!”

In her ruling, Manchester County Court Judge Claire Evans said the borough council’s actions “discriminated on the ground of religion” and showed “wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression.”

“We thank God for this ruling because it is a win for every Christian in the UK,” Graham said in response.

The Winter Gardens Center in Blackpool is a popular venue, and one where Graham’s father, evangelist Billy Graham, also preached. Franklin Graham’s festival drew 9,000 people over the course of the tour, from Sept. 21-23, 2018.

Bus ads for the festival began running July 2, 2018, and were taken down a day later. Instead, the Blackpool Borough Council mounted a rainbow flag over the town hall and the tower was lit up with rainbow lights.

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The judge ruled the removal of the ads was an unjustified interference in the freedom of expression of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which organized the festival.

James Barrett, chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK’s board of directors, said the ruling was a “strong and clear rebuke of the cancel culture sweeping the UK.”

“The Court in this case recognized 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,” Barrett said.

Franklin Graham, who runs his late father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has been a repeatedly called homosexuality a sin and has been a strong supporter of traditional marriage.

Last year, a convention center in Liverpool announced it would no longer be hosting Graham after being made aware of statements it viewed as “incompatible” with its values.

The Marshall Arena, a venue in the town of Milton Keynes, canceled its own Graham event over concerns it could “lead to a breach of the peace.”

The 2020 tour, scheduled for May, was ultimately postponed because of the coronavirus.

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is a North Carolina-based reporter who has written about religion for more than 17 years. She is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.