Equality Justice Scotland the Church The Church in Scotland

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


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 ministers was the Rev Bryan Kerr, a Church of Scotland minister in Lanark.   Not only did he speak out against Franklin Graham – as he was entitled to do – but he petitioned 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.

Franklin Graham and the Mayor of Liverpool – Which One is the Real Hate Preacher?

Graham Norton – Cancel culture is not the same as Accountability – CT



    1. I was just listening yesterday to a Lecture given by Rev Prof James S Stewart of New College, Edinburgh, on Preaching where he says the ‘success’ of the Billy Graham Campaigns in 1954 and 1955 was greatly due to the thousands of church members who supporting in Prayer. Thank you David for that important piece.

  1. Excellent article David. Thank you for highlighting in that format. Worth us keeping at hand as a reference as we move forward. A clear and emphatic judgement. Thanks be to God.

    1. “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.”
      Is this not just a fancy way of saying, “They were telling lies”?

  2. Can the SEC appeal this judgement? Two midwives employed by Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board won their case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh but the GG&CHB appealed to the Supreme Court and the decision of the Court of Session was overruled.

  3. ‘Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word’…such a great motto for their city!

    I particularly like principle #3…

  4. It is for articles like this I read the wee flea. David Robertson at his brilliant best.
    I feel informed and inspired by the clear explanation and analysis of an important issue.
    Why has so little been said about this court judgement elsewhere not least in other church publications?
    Thank you

  5. Use as * shield not a sword* is a principle, maxim, of the exercise of Equity in the Jurisdiction in the Courts system in England and Wales. Some of Badenock’s training in law seems to be coming to the fore.

  6. Lots of issues here

    1. If Graham had apologized for his praising of Putins brutal suppression of LGBT people or his support for banning Muslims from entering the United States or his racist comments against Obama then maybe he would have been welcomed by the community instead of facing hostility, not just from gays and atheists, but even from some Conservative evangelicals.

    2. If he was a Muslim and had said similar things against Christians and Jews then would he even have been allowed to enter the UK?

    3. Speaking to a crowd of thousands or giving TV interviews is very different than shooting your mouth off to a guy in a pub. There needs to be self control (a fruit of the spirit). I feel Christians should be better behaved than the bare minimum they can legally get away with

    1. None of these are the issues. Not for the first time you seek to muddy the waters. The issue is not whether you agree with what Graham says, or even that his coming would be a good thing. The issue is not even if he is welcome. The issue is whether he should be banned. The judge clearly stated that to ban someone because you don’t like their religious views is illegal. Instead of carping could you not have the decency to recognise the rightness and significance of this judgement? Or does your prejudice overrule everything?

      Incidentally you live in a somewhat bizzare world if you think that a Muslim would be banned for speaking out against gays! We even welcome Jihadists! And if you are going to talk about ‘shooting your mouth’ off whether in a pub or online – you should be really careful about libel. What racist comments did he make against Obama?

      1. 1. It’s not his religious beliefs that people are objecting to, but his vocal support for extreme (sometimes violent!) political movements

        2. I recognize that your point is that he is legally allowed to preach in the UK. *I* am making the point that Christian leaders ought not to be setting their personal behavior at the bare minimum of what is legal

        3. FG encouraged the racist birther movement against Obama, claiming he was born in Africa, and lied that he is a Muslim, even though he knew fine well that he is an American born Christian

      2. 1. Could you let us know which violent political movements Franklin supports? Antifa? BLM? Get Oil Out?
        2. Utterly irrelevant to this discussion. Don’t divert.
        3. He was wrong. He apologised to Obama. But even if he didn’t – its not relevant to this discussion. It’s relevant to why you don’t like him but not relevant to banning him.

      3. 1. Putin, MAGA
        2. Grahams personal behavior and political activity is why the bookings were canceled. It was not because he is a Christian
        3. Again his personal behavior, especially his bad mouthing gay people and Muslims, are why his bookings were canceled.

        Again I think Christian leaders should be role models of morality, not doing the bare minimum not to break the law

      4. 1. No he did not express support for the violence of either Putin or some in MAGA (what is that?). By that standard you would have to ban everyone who voiced support for BLM and Antifa – but of course you wouldn’t.
        2. Read the judgement. He was not cancelled for his personal behaviour but because of his religious views. This was found to be illegal.
        3. Disagreeing with – is not bad mouthing.

        Your support of intolerance is quite chilling. Your justification for suppressing the right to preach the Gospel – or indeed to preach other things – is a sad sign of the times. Why let your politics govern everything? Why not stick to what the Bible says?

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