Council admits unlawful discrimination in cancelling church event

Edinburgh Council has admitted acting unlawfully in cancelling a Christian conference because of the beliefs of a guest speaker.

American preacher Larry Stockstill had been due to speak at a three-day conference by Destiny Church at Usher Hall last summer, but the Council shut down the event and branded his biblical beliefs on marriage and sexuality as “offensive and discriminatory” when it received complaints from LGBT activists.

The Council apologised ahead of going to court and will pay Destiny a £25,000 settlement.

‘Serious infringement’

In its apology, the Council recognised that biblical views on marriage and sexuality are legally protected under both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

It also acknowledged it had “failed to meet its equalities duties to Destiny Ministries in terms of the Equality Act 2010 and therefore acted unlawfully”.

Andrew Owen, who founded Destiny in 1990, said: “This serious infringement of religious liberty and freedom of expression had to be challenged.

“With this behind us we look forward to being able to make use of council premises in the future.”

Responsibility

Speaking to The Christian Institute, Brent Haywood, Litigation Partner at Lindsays law firm, which supported the case, explained its significance.

He said: “If Destiny could be cancelled from using a public space hired out by Edinburgh council, then what was to stop the same thing happening to other Christian organisations throughout the UK?”

He added that Destiny felt the weight of the rest of the Christian community in the UK on its shoulders, “because so many Christian organisations need to hire space”, which is why this was “a really, really important case” to take on.

‘Encouraging’

The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director, Ciarán Kelly, welcomed the outcome.

“This was a clear case of unlawful religious discrimination and denial of free speech and it’s helpful that in the end the Council recognised its actions were wrong without having to be told by a court.

“It will encourage faithful churches and Christian organisations that the law is on their side. And it is a reminder to councils and other venue providers that they cannot trample on religious freedom simply because they don’t like Christian beliefs.”

Stirling Free Church

Destiny’s case has parallels with the ongoing legal challenge of Stirling Free Church, which is suing The Robertson Trust for religious discrimination after the multi-million pound trust cancelled a venue booking over the church’s position on same-sex marriage.

The church had a contract to use premises owned by the trust for its Sunday services. But when trust chairwoman Shonaig Macpherson learned of the agreement, the contract was terminated.

Macpherson reportedly objected to the church’s biblical belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Also see:

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CI case: Trust ‘shunned’ and ‘humiliated’ CEO over church’s marriage views

Church sues multimillion pound Trust for religious discrimination

Robertson Trust accused of “sham” disciplinary hearing before dismissing pro-marriage CEO

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