Blackpool Council has been criticised by a judge after she ruled that it discriminated against Christians by banning bus adverts for the Lancashire Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham.
The adverts, which simply displayed the message ‘Time for Hope!’, were controversially removed by the Council and Blackpool Transport Services Limited over Graham’s biblical views on marriage and sexuality. It followed this up by lighting up Blackpool Tower with the colours of the rainbow flag to show support for LGBT activists.
But Her Honour Judge Claire Evans of Manchester County Court ruled “overwhelmingly” in favour of Graham and the Lancashire Festival of Hope, stating that the Council’s actions in removing the adverts and taking sides against local Christians were “the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democracy”.
‘Freedom of speech’
The judge said the Council had misrepresented the reasons for the ban, wrongly characterised Franklin Graham’s belief in marriage between one man and one woman as “extremist”, and shown “wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression”.
The Council was ruled to have been in breach of the Equality Act, as it was clear the Festival had been discriminated against on the basis of Franklin Graham’s beliefs.
James Barrett, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK, said: “This ruling confirms that all Christians in the UK have the right to share their beliefs in the public square without being discriminated against or interfered with by public officials and other groups that want to silence them.
“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.”
‘Good news for the Good News’
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute welcomed the result.
He said: “This ruling is good news for the Good News. Lancashire Festival of Hope was an entirely positive presentation of the gospel and had nothing to do with the controversies activists tried to link to it. Evangelistic events like this can go ahead in the future safe from hostile attempts by local councils to mute their message.
“This ruling is a warning to local authorities who don’t like Christians because of their beliefs about marriage. The message is clear: If you discriminate against us, you are breaking the law. The Festival’s bus adverts were agreed by all sides to be inoffensive. Yet Blackpool banned them, then lit up the Tower in rainbow colours during the Festival to show their solidarity with LGBT activists and their opposition to Christians.
“The judgment strongly condemns Blackpool’s actions, and rejects the arguments of their legal team that sought to defeat the entire purpose of equality and human rights law.”