Embattled preacher Franklin Graham has been receiving a growing level of support from free speech proponents after all eight venues due to host him on an upcoming preaching tour cancelled their bookings.
Graham’s event schedule has been left in tatters following the cancellations, which were carried out in response to pressure from the LGBT community who accuse the American of being homophobic.
Now, however, many are pushing back in support of the prominent preacher by signing a petition addressed to British Home Secretary, Priti Patel.
The CitizenGo petition was set up by free speech advocacy group “Voice for Justice UK” and is titled “Stop hate speech against Christians. Investigate Franklin Graham’s bullying opponents for hate crimes.” At the time of writing, it has garnered over 10,500 signatures.
The petitions reads: “Ideologues intent on imposing their rebranded views on society are increasingly trying to drive Christians out of the public arena.
“Activists have mounted a campaign to get the tour stopped, branding Mr Graham homophobic, because he maintains, in line with the Bible, that homosexuality is a sin. In defence, Mr Graham has said that we are all sinners – himself included – and that we all stand in need of Christ’s forgiveness. Dismissing this well-established Christian doctrine, however, his opponents have continued their campaign of vilification, with the result that arenas booked across the country have now cancelled.
“In a democratic society committed to the rule of law, how can these venomous and intimidatory tactics – that drive out someone who has done no wrong, and who hasn’t broken the law – ever be acceptable? How is it possible that those attacking Mr Graham should be allowed to be so intolerant and bigoted, categorically refusing the right of Bible-believing Christians to defend their faith?”
The document goes on to cite Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1999, which enshrines the legal right of all people to freedom of thought, belief and religion. It also reminds the government that, under the Equality Act 2010, "people must not be discriminated against because they follow a particular religion."
“We call for Mr Graham’s bullying opponents to be investigated for hate crimes, and for Her Majesty’s Government to defend the right of Christians to practise and manifest their belief without intimidation or pressure,” the petition concludes.
The petition comes as 17 evangelicals put their name to a letter to The Guardian newspaper outlining why they cannot support Graham's visit.
"We fear that his activities in the UK will widen divides in churches and communities," they said. "It seems likely to us that people will be driven further away from Jesus rather than brought to faith through hearing his presentation of the gospel."
Speaking to Premier Christian News on Friday, Graham said that while he was sorry for anything he has said in the past that may have been deemed hurtful to the LGBT community, he certainly has no intention of compromising on the message of the Bible.
"I believe the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "That's the Church of England's position. I think Her Majesty the Queen, that's her position and it's the position of the Church, pretty much worldwide. This is what the Bible teaches and that's what I believe."
Urging members of the LGBT community to attend his preaching events, he said: I'm here to say that God loves you. God is willing to forgive sin. If we will repent and believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, we will be forgiven."
Despite the cancellations being something of a “headache” from a scheduling point of view, Graham has insisted that the tour will still go ahead.
"There are other venues. We've certainly talked to other venues and many of them have indicated it wouldn't be an issue with them,” he explained. “Some of the venues that we will probably book will be actually larger venues than we had previously. Give it a few more weeks and we should be in a position to name those venues."
The evangelist, known for his support of President Donald Trump, also suggested that he may take legal action against the venues who breached their contractual obligations by cancelling the bookings last minute. Such legal action would be taken in defense of free speech and for the benefit of the global church, Graham insisted.
"This is a religious freedom issue and it's also a free speech issue. It doesn't just affect me. There are churches that meet in public arenas for Sunday services; schools and so forth. If a small group of people can force a cancellation of an event where thousands of Christians are participating, I think there is no question about the danger in the future to others.
"We did have a contract signed with these venues and they have breached that contract. I haven't broken any laws and I'm not guilty of anything. We just have to look at what our options are but even though we can assign other venues, which we will do, I'm thinking of the church in the future.
“We are at a pivotal moment as it comes to free speech - and free speech, remember, is for all of us. It's one of our most cherished freedoms, so I would certainly encourage people to push back and to guard and protect your right to free speech and then also for our religious beliefs. I hold firm to my religious beliefs and to be discriminated against because of those religious beliefs - we need to be very careful and protect what we can."