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Government minister warns venues over cancelling Franklin Graham

A government minister has called on the owners of venues who cancelled the booking of Franklin Graham to ensure they are not unlawfully discriminating on grounds of religion and belief.

The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has been speaking after the US evangelist's UK tour was thrown into chaos after all eight venues previously booked cancelled, citing the division Graham's appearance would have on their cities.

Graham was due to preach in large arenas in eight different cities this summer. Despite the cancellations, he told Premier last week the tour will go ahead.

The opposition to his events stem from previous comments he's made about homosexuality.

LGBT groups have accused him of being a hate preacher.

As organisers of the tour, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, attempt to find new venues, Tory MP Fiona Bruce raised her freedom of speech concerns relating to this in Parliament.

She said: "The Prime Minister said in his Christmas message, 'We stand with Christians everywhere, in solidarity, and will defend your right to practise your faith'.

"Plainly, that was meant to include the UK, so may we have a statement on whether we can really call ourselves a tolerant, inclusive and diverse society that respects freedom of speech, whatever one's religion or beliefs, if we deny the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association a platform in this country?"

Responding on behalf of the government, Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "No-platforming is a particularly disagreeable modern trend. 

"Although venues are allowed to take their own decisions about whether or not to host Franklin Graham during his upcoming visit, they must, like all service providers, be careful not to discriminate unlawfully on grounds of religion and belief. 

"The UK has robust protections for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and the price of living in a free, plural society is tolerating views and beliefs that we disagree with or are even offended by. 

"That is fundamentally important. It is a sad truth that many people who tout themselves as being liberal are liberal only about what they like and are very intolerant of the views with which they disagree."

Franklin Graham told Premier that he's hoping the venues will reconsider but is considering legal action if they don't.

He said: "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."

Graham's tour is due to begin in Glasgow in May and finishes in London.

Yesterday, Premier revealed that a court date had been set for a legal dispute linked to his last visit to the UK.

Bus adverts for Blackpool's Festival of Hope were banned in 2018 after complaints from LGBT groups.

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