Controversial US preacher awarded £100,000 after venue axed event

The court found the basis for cancelling Franklin Graham's event was not because of security and protest concerns.

Controversial preacher Franklin Graham awarded £100,000 by Scottish courts after Glasgow Hydro axed event Getty Images

The Scottish Event Campus (SEC) has been ordered to pay almost £100,000 in damages to a US evangelical preacher after it axed an event following concerns about his controversial views on gay rights, Islam and Donald Trump.

On May 30, 2020, American preacher Franklin Graham, who is son of the late prominent evangelist Billy Graham, was set to hold an event at Glasgow’s Hydro as the first date of a UK tour, however following pressure from the city council and religious groups the event was scrapped.

Venue staff said the move was down to “recent adverse publicity” surrounding the tour.

Mr Graham had been criticised for his beliefs that homosexuality is a “sin”, Islam is “evil” and over his support for former US president Donald Trump.

The group behind the event, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) took the case to the Scottish courts and claimed that the SEC Limited group had discriminated against a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010, namely, religion and philosophical belief.

In a hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Sheriff John N McCormick found that by cancelling the event, SEC directly discriminated against BGEA in that it “treated the pursuer less favourably than it would have treated others because of a protected characteristic, namely, the religious or philosophical beliefs of the pursuer and Franklin Graham”.

The court added that the SEC “acted under pressure from others including its shareholder, its sponsor and for commercial considerations”.

The SEC was ordered to pay damages to the extent of £97,325.32

During the trial, the SEC argued that the contract with BGEA was terminated “solely due to concerns regarding the possibility of protest outside and inside the venue”.  

However, the court found that these were not the sole or even the main reason for the event being cancelled. 

The court held that in terms of the Equality Act 2010 a protected characteristic, such as religion and philosophical belief, must have nothing to do with the defender’s decision to terminate the agreement, otherwise the court must find in favour of the pursuer, in this case BGEA.

It was found that the SEC was under pressure to cancel the event from its principal shareholder, Glasgow City Council, that the event campus was concerned that artists might refuse to play there, and that its sponsor considered that the event was not compatible with its values.

Glasgow City Council’s representatives made their position clear at the board meeting and then wrote asking for the event to be cancelled.

On the same day the SEC wrote to the BGEA cancelling the event.

In the letter from Glasgow City Council, the basis which was claimed for cancelling the event – security and protest – was not mentioned, and then not mentioned in the termination letter issued to BGEA.

Sheriff McCormick ruled that although issues of security and protest were considered by the SEC’s board, those were not the sole or main reason why the event was cancelled. 

An SEC spokesperson said: “We are naturally disappointed in the outcome of the case. We are currently reviewing the extensive documentation to determine whether any further action is required.”

Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the BGEA, said, “I am grateful to God for this decision—it is a clear victory for freedom of speech and religion in the UK. 

“This case was never about financial remedies – it was about the preservation of religious freedom in the UK – particularly the right for Christians to share the Gospel in the public square.

“I want to thank Sheriff John McCormick for upholding the law and affirming that Christians must be treated fairly and equally. This ruling will be a great encouragement for Christians and people of all faiths across the UK and many other parts of the world.”

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