A court has strongly rebuked a local council for taking sides against Christians by banning bus ads to promote a gospel event.
The ruling said that Blackpool Council had discriminated against Christians when it banned bus adverts for the Lancashire Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham.
Ahead of the event, the council initially allowed, then removed, advertisements that read, ‘Lancashire Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham – Time for Hope’.
Activists were opposed to the Franklin Graham event because of his support for biblical marriage and his criticisms of Islam.
Despite protests and an attempt to bar him from entering the country, Mr Graham hosted an evangelical rally at Blackpool Winter Gardens in 2018.
When asked about his views at the time by the BBC, Mr Graham said he believes ‘marriage is for a man and a woman and that is what the Bible teaches us’.
Her Honour Judge Claire Evans said the council’s decision to ban the bus ads was ‘the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democracy’.
The judgment says that the council and its lawyers had misrepresented the reasons for the ban, wrongly characterised Franklin Graham as an ‘extremist’ and shown ‘wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression’.
The ruling stated, ‘The domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights have consistently affirmed that a pluralistic tolerant society allows for the expression of many different and sometimes diametrically opposed beliefs.’
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said, ‘This ruling is good news for the Good News. Lancashire Festival of Hope was an entirely positive presentation of the gospel.’
He added, ‘Evangelistic events like this can go ahead in the future safe from hostile attempts by local councils to mute their message.’
In a joint statement the council and Blackpool Transport Services Ltd said it had taken on board the judgment’s findings and would undertake a review to determine if any further changes need to be made.
They said they remained committed ‘to promoting equality and diversity, eliminating discrimination and increasing respect, tolerance and understanding throughout our community’.