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Councillors threaten Franklin Graham ahead of Blackpool visit

Blackpool Council reiterated its stance on the organisation of public events, in response to calls that the evangelist's Festival of Hope be shelved over claims he has encouraged prejudice.

Councillor Maria Kirkland, said: "If matters are brought to our attention, that could constitute incitement to hatred, we will forward these to the relevant public authorities and should this be proved we will not hesitate to terminate this booking."

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The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, of which Franklin Graham is the chief executive officer, is joining Lancashire churches in holding the event at the Blackpool Winter Gardens between Friday 21st and Sunday 23rd September.

But thousands of people have signed a petition calling on the UK Government to bar the evangelist entry to the UK, saying he has homophobic and Islamophobic views and is "likely to promote prejudice and hatred".

Blackpool Council said concerns raised about the Festival of Hope have been "explored very carefully" and the authority's opposition to discrimination is "robust and clear".

The authority also said it was forwarding concerns about Franklin Graham to the Home Office, which would be in the position to decide whether his conduct contravenes UK law.

Explaining the council's current plan to honour the venue booking, Maria Kirkland added: "We will have a contractual obligation to The Billy Graham Evangelistic organisation, over their booking at the Winter Gardens.

"Furthermore, we equally accept the crucial democratic principles of free speech and associated rights of religious expression under the Human Rights Act."

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association told Premier last month: "The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is working in partnership with local churches to hold this event next year in Blackpool.

"It will be a positive and encouraging event with music and also a message from Franklin Graham about the hope that can be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It will be free and everyone is invited to attend."

In response to the council's comments, Tell MAMA - a charity which measures anti-Muslim incidents in the UK - said: "Given the previous statements that we highlighted in detail last year, we are concerned about the visit to the UK and the impacts on the social cohesion of our country.

"We believe that given the previous statements made by Graham, there will be significant opposition to him attending and speaking in the UK".

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