Church groups settle discrimination case against Scotland's largest grant-making trust

The Robertson Trust

Scotland's largest grant-making trust has apologised to two church groups for unlawful discrimination. 

The Robertson Trust has reached a settlement with Stirling Free Church and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in a case that centred on booking cancellations. 

The church and BGEA had made two separate bookings to use the trust's French Barracks conference centre in Stirling in 2019.

Both of the bookings were then cancelled by the trust supposedly because they were for religious events. 

Glasgow Sheriff Court first heard the claim in April. It was due to return to the court on 1 December but the trust has now admitted that its actions breached equality laws.

It has apologised to both organisations and agreed to pay £20,000 towards their legal costs.

Trustees said in a court filing that they "regret" cancelling the bookings and "fully accept that in so doing they inadvertently failed to meet their duties to the Free Church in terms of the Equality Act 2010, and therefore acted unlawfully".

"The Trustees apologise to the Free Church," they said. 

A similar statement has been issued by the trust relating to its settlement with the BGEA. 

Iain Macaskill, Stirling Free Church minister, said: "It has been a long time coming but finally justice has been done.

"Our legal action was never about financial compensation. It was about the principle. It is against the law to advertise a venue as being available to all-comers but then cancel the contract simply because the booking is for a religious event.

"Christians have the same legal rights as everyone else and the outcome of this case affirms that. The Trust has accepted that they broke the law and they have apologised to us. We are grateful and relieved."

The settlement follows the successful religious discrimination case brought by the trust's former CEO, Kenneth Ferguson.

Ferguson, an elder of Stirling Free Church, was sacked by the trust in 2020. 

An employment tribunal in July agreed that he had been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against because of his Christian views on marriage.

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director at The Christian Institute, which supported the church, BGEA and Ferguson in their claims, welcomed the outcome.

"When Kenneth won his religious discrimination claim against The Robertson Trust we said the Trust had a lot of work to do to rebuild trust with faith groups," he said.

"I'm pleased to say that the Trust has now begun that work in earnest. This settlement will go a long way towards reassuring religious organisations that they can expect to be able to use The Robertson Trust's facilities without discrimination.

"They've admitted they got this wrong, they've apologised and they've made a substantial contribution towards legal costs. I think everyone can welcome that.

"This settlement is another important reminder that if you discriminate against Christians for their beliefs, whether you do so in the workplace or the marketplace, you are probably breaking the law. Equality and human rights law firmly protects the ability of Christians to hold and express their beliefs, whether on sexual ethics or anything else."

Commenting on the settlement, Mark Batho, chair of the board of trustees at The Robertson Trust, said: "The Trust's long standing funding policy legitimately states that we do not fund or support the promotion of any particular religious or political beliefs. We recognise that in applying our funding policy to the hire of our facilities, which are available at substantially subsidised rates to charities and community groups, we inadvertently breached the Equality Act 2010.

"We have a proud record of working with Scotland's charities and community groups, including many faith-based organisations with whom we will continue to work very closely. In the decade ahead we remain committed to offering at least £200 million in funding to support inclusive community projects that make a real difference to people and places facing the hardship of poverty and trauma. We will do so whilst promoting diversity and equal rights for all.

"We will continue to work with the third sector towards a Scotland where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Our focus remains on funding and supporting their invaluable work, including that of faith-based organisations whose activities are well aligned with our strategy, to help reduce and prevent the negative impacts of poverty and trauma."