Church fundraising to take legal action against Edinburgh City Council over cancelled conference venue

Destiny Church founder Andrew Owen

A Glasgow church has launched a fundraising campaign to take legal action against Edinburgh City Council over the cancellation of its conference booking. 

Destiny Church had planned to hold its SURGE conference at the Usher Hall in June, with the Evangelical Alliance's Gavin Calver and American preacher Larry Stockstill among the speakers. 

But the booking was cancelled by the city council after complaints were made about Stockstill's views on same-sex relationships.

The council said at the time: "We're committed to promoting diversity and equal rights for all. We have high standards, which we expect those hiring and visiting our venues to respect and observe. We have cancelled this booking and served notice to terminate the contract."

Now Destiny Church is trying to raise £150,000 to cover the cost of legal action against the city council over the cancellation.

A fundraising page set up at GoFundMe has so far raised over £12,000. 

In a video update to supporters, the church's founder, Andrew Owen said that the council's actions should be of concern to churches everywhere.

"We as Christians are facing a crisis in our nation," he said. 

Addressing the cancellation, he said: "If that is allowed to stand, every single church in the UK will face the same challenges. You will be locked out of public venues, you will be locked out of the public space."

He said the church had been left with no option but to seek legal action after attempts to reach out to the city council had failed to reverse the cancellation. 

Explaining the fundraising campaign, Owen said that the legal costs were likely to be "extremely high" and "way beyond the budget of a local church". 

He is appealing to people of all faiths, not only Christians, to support the campaign. 

"We want to have the right to meet in public spaces," he continued.  "We want to have the right to think the thoughts that we think in line with biblical teaching.

"And I'm sure there will be many other people of an Islamic or a Jewish faith who will carry the same sentiments as us. 

"If they are locking us out, they will lock you out, and so it's important that we fight right now.  Let's do this together." 

In a statement responding to the threat of legal action, a spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council told Christian Today: "The Destiny Church event at the Usher Hall has been cancelled due to the keynote speaker's publicly-stated views about same-sex relationships which are, in the Council's opinion, offensive and discriminatory.

"We are committed to promoting diversity and equal rights for all. The proposed event did not meet the standards which we expect from those hiring and visiting our venues to respect and observe and the booking was therefore cancelled.

"The Council is mindful of the need to protect freedom of speech, but will not allow its venues to be used as a platform for speakers who discriminate against particular sections of society.

"The Council is aware of the potential for legal action and will vigorously defend its position in order to protect and promote diversity and equal rights for all."

Despite the cancellation at the Usher Hall, the SURGE conference is going ahead as planned at a different venue yet to be confirmed. 

Destiny Church is not alone in seeking legal action over a cancelled venue.  

American evangelist Franklin Graham has launched legal proceedings after seven venues across the UK cancelled his bookings. 

He told Christian Today he was pursuing legal action because of concerns about the broader implications for UK churches.

"If we don't stand up for the right to free speech and freedom of religion, there are lots of churches in this country that meet in public who are at risk," he said.

"They could be kicked out, they could be forced to go somewhere else, just because of their faith.

"We haven't broken any laws and I think it's important for the church that we resolve this matter so that it protects them."