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Scottish trust to pay $26K after canceling church event booking

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A Scottish charity, which had canceled bookings made by a local church and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for its conference center, has apologized for violating the United Kingdom’s Equality Act as part of a legal settlement. 

The Robertson Trust has apologized to the BGEA and Stirling Free Church for the cancellation of 2019 bookings to use its conference center in Stirling, Scotland, for religious events and agreed to pay both entities a total of £20,000 (about $26,500) towards legal expenses. 

Mark Batho, chair of the board of trustees at The Robertson Trust, said in a statement that the organization had “inadvertently breached the Equality Act 2010.”

“The Trust’s long standing funding policy (1) legitimately states that we do not fund or support the promotion of any particular religious or political beliefs,” Batho said. “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.”

Iain Macaskill, the minister of Stirling Free Church, said in a statement shared by the Christian Institute, the legal group representing the two organizations, that it is “against the law to advertise a venue as being available to all-comers but 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,” Macaskill said. 

In a statement shared by the BGEA, Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, said the resolution of the case “sends a clear message” that “religious freedom isn’t dead.”

The Trust’s Barracks Conference Center was among several venues in the U.K. that had canceled events scheduled to start last May by Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA. They cited objections to his views on homosexuality due to pressure from LGBT groups.

“I have been surprised … I’m not coming to speak against anybody and I don’t name any groups of people,” Graham told Christian Today at the time. “I’m coming to tell people how they can have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Last month, the BGEA announced its rescheduled U.K. tour from May 14 through July 16.

“Even through these unprecedented circumstances, BGEA has remained committed to the goal of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are profoundly grateful for the thousands of churches of various denominations across the U.K. that have stood alongside us and continued praying for the tour,” the group said on its website.

Graham said: “We want all people to know that God loves them and everlasting life is available to anyone. This remains the purpose for every BGEA event, and it is why we have named the rescheduled tour the God Loves You Tour – UK.

Last February, Glasgow Sheriff Court had asked the Scottish Event Campus why it canceled the BGEA event.

Susan Aitken, Glasgow City Council leader, had said that the way Graham “expresses his views could, I believe, fundamentally breach the council’s statutory equalities duties.” She pointed out that in 2016, Graham accused LGBT activists of “trying to cram down America’s throat the lie that homosexuality is OK.”

“This is ultimately about whether the Scottish Event Campus will discriminate against the religious beliefs of Christians,” Graham said at the time, according to Glasgow Times. “More than 330 churches in the Glasgow area alone support this evangelistic outreach and their voices are being silenced. This case has wide-reaching ramifications for religious freedom and democracy in the U.K. and Europe.”

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