Franklin Graham and the Glasgow Hydro: a significant judgment for Christian freedoms

Franklin Graham(Photo: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)

In May 2020 Franklin Graham was due to lead an evangelistic campaign at one of Scotland's premier venues, the SEC's Hydro in Glasgow. He was then 'cancelled'. At the time I wrote that it was a seminal moment in the UK.

When the event was cancelled, it was estimated to have cost the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) around £100,000. In a ruling this week, a judge at a civil hearing in Glasgow Sheriff Court ordered the SEC to pay the full £100,000. The full 280-page finding makes for fascinating reading and covers many issues from Christian doctrine to the constitutional basis of religious freedom.

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens and a member of the Scottish government, was among those who lobbied for the event to be cancelled. Glasgow City Council- the majority shareholder in the SEC - also asked for it to be cancelled.

There were no security concerns about the event, despite venue staff claiming this was a major factor in the cancellation. The reason it was cancelled was purely and simply prejudice. In fact, the cancellation rather than being for 'equality' was found by Sheriff McCormick to be against the equalities law.

Other comments from the Sheriff are worth reflecting on, not least because they are an encouraging sign that the law is prepared to protect the Church both from intolerant politicians and indeed itself. Some principles are clearly stated in the judgment.

1. We have the right to evangelise – even if some people don't like it!

"The pursuer's right to engage a speaker at the evangelical event - in furtherance of a religious or philosophical belief - is protected by law."

2. It is illegal for those who disagree with us to discriminate against us

"It follows that in relation to a protected characteristic (here: religion or philosophical belief) no section of society can discriminate against those with whom he, she or they disagree."

3. It is illogical to seek to ban those you disagree with while professing belief in free speech

"A theme among those seeking cancellation of the event included prefacing their remarks with a professed belief in free speech while denying that right to others and denying third parties their choice to attend."

4. It is not for the law to adjudicate on religious or philosophical beliefs

"The event on 30 May 2020 was a Christian evangelical outreach event. Whether others agree with, disagree with or even, as was submitted on behalf of the pursuer, find abhorrent the opinions of the pursuer or Franklin Graham is not relevant for the purposes of this decision. This applies even where, as I heard evidence, members within the Christian community may not agree with the pursuer. The court does not adjudicate on the validity of religious or philosophical beliefs."

All of this is very encouraging. However, something not quite so encouraging is the sheriff's remarks on the actions of two ministers of the Church of Scotland.

"I have edited the names of a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and two Ministers of the Church of Scotland. I do so primarily because although their lobbying/writings featured in the case, they were not witnesses. In addition, the (on occasion, polemical) terms of what they were reported to have written and their mischaracterisation of the event was neither supported by the facts nor by either party to the case."

One of these two ministers didn't only speak out against Franklin Graham – as he was entitled to do – but sought to have him banned. It is extraordinary that a Church of Scotland minister sought to have the secular authorities prevent the Gospel being preached in Glasgow – a city whose motto is "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word".

And note the damning judgment of the sheriff, that these ministers in their polemical writings mischaracterised the nature of the event - a mischaracterisation which was not supported by the facts. What an embarrassment to the Church of Scotland that two of its ministers were found to have 'misrepresented' things contrary to the facts, in order to prevent another minister with whom they disagreed, from preaching the Gospel.

If ever there was a case for church discipline and admonition, then this is surely it. But such is the current drift of the Church of Scotland that it is extremely unlikely any action will be taken.

Overall, the judgment is an enormously significant one for the Church in Scotland and the rest of the UK. It should be read and pondered by church leaders and lawyers. And thanks should be given to God for such a clear judgment – defending religious freedom and our right to preach the Gospel. May we use that freedom wisely.

An encouraging footnote. The new equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, this week declared in the House of Commons that "the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword, it is there to protect people of all characteristics, young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight".

Pink News and other LGBT activists are up in arms about Badenoch's appointment – precisely because they see 'equality' as a sword to attack others, not a shield to protect all.