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Judge rules ban on bus adverts for Franklin Graham UK event was unlawful

by Marcus Jones

The organisers of an evangelistic event in which Franklin Graham preached have won a legal dispute with Blackpool Council.

The Lancashire Festival of Hope took place over three days at Blackpool's Winter Gardens in September 2018 and saw hundreds make commitments to follow Christ.

Before the start of the event, adverts which were booked to appear on local buses, were banned.

Despite the ads simply stating 'Time for Hope', they were refused over concerns that Graham would incite hatred upon his visit.

The concern was linked to past comments he'd made about Islam and homosexuality.

In a statement at the time, 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."

The organisers of the event decided to take legal action and despite a delay because of the pandemic, the case was finally heard last month at Manchester County Court.

Today, Judge Claire Evans said that freedom of expression had been blocked. In her judgement, she said: "The balance comes down overwhelmingly in favour of the Claimant.

"Yes, the Claimant was still able to advertise its event and yes, it was still a success. But it turned out all right in the end cannot be an answer to the question of whether the interference with a fundamental right to freedom of expression can be justified. 

"The Defendants had a wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression possessed by the Claimant. It gave a preference to the rights and opinions of one part of the community without having any regard for the rights of the Claimant or those who shared its religious beliefs."

Responding to the ruling, Franklin Graham, who is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said: "We thank God for this ruling because it is a win for every Christian in the UK."

James Barrett, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK said: "It is a significant day for religious liberty and freedom of speech. 

"In one of the most comprehensive judicial rebukes of cancel culture in the UK, the Court clearly affirmed that Christians and other people of faith who publicly express traditional religious views about marriage and human sexuality are protected by law. 

"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."

A remedies hearing is now expected to take place to determine legal costs and damages.

In a statement given to Premier, Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services said: “We take on board the findings addressed within the judgment. Our policies and procedures are reviewed on a regular basis to take account of such sensitive issues. In light of the County Court judgment, we will undertake a further review to determine whether any further changes need to be made.

“We would like to reiterate that Blackpool Council and its arms-length companies remain committed to promoting equality and diversity, eliminating discrimination and increasing respect, tolerance and understanding throughout our community.”


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