After a legal fight lasting several years, evangelist Franklin Graham has won an important case for religious freedom in the UK. A County Court Judge Claire Evans has ruled that the 2018 Lancashire Festival of Hope was discriminated against when ads promoting the event were pulled from buses in Blackpool, in an effort to ban him from preaching. In 2018, the Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services removed bus advertisements displaying the words “Time for Hope,” citing that members of the community complained about Graham’s association with the festival. The transportation company said they received feedback from members of the community who were concerned over the evangelist’s religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality. Complaints referenced Graham’s biblical views about LGBTQ matters like same-sex marriage.
Some falsely accused him of “preaching hate” or being “racist.” Jane Cole, managing director at Blackpool Transport said, “The removal of these adverts is as a result of us listening and acting on customer and public feedback which we aim to do at all times. Blackpool Transport is a proud ongoing supporter of the Pride and LGBT+ communities and in no way did we intend to cause any distress or upset.” After the decision was announced, additional complaints were made about the removal of the advertisements by members of the public who saw the move as bias against Christians, censorship, and a restriction of free speech. However, the court concluded that the ads themselves were inoffensive and the transportation company had actually violated the UK’s Equality Act 2010. The law forbids discrimination against anyone because of religion or belief.
Judge Evans ruled “overwhelmingly in favour” of the Lancashire Festival of Hope, saying that Blackpool “had a wholesale disregard” for the Festival’s right to freedom of speech. It prioritized the rights and opinions of members of the LGBT community. “We thank God for this ruling because it is a win for every Christian in the U.K.,” Graham said. Despite removal of the ads, the Lancashire Festival of Hope brought 9,000 people together in Blackpool, garnered more than 50,000 online views worldwide, and saw more than 400 people commit their lives to Christ. “It is a significant day for religious liberty,” said James Barrett, chairman of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK. “The court recognized that Blackpool Council cared more about appeasing the LGBTQ community than upholding the rights of local churches to advertise a Christian festival.”
He added, “The judge summarized it best in her ruling when she said, ‘This is the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democratic society.’ I am grateful the courts have once again reiterated that the freedom to speak only what is not offensive is not freedom of speech at all.” Franklin Graham’s battle for religious freedom is far from over in the United Kingdom. Before the pandemic began in 2020, numerous venues in the UK had discriminated against Graham, breaking their contracts with him and refusing to allow him to hold any evangelistic festivals because of his biblical beliefs on sexuality. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has been fighting this religious discrimination in the courts.