Great Britain

US evangelical group takes legal action against UK venues

A conservative US evangelical organisation is taking legal action against UK entertainment venues that cancelled appearances by Franklin Graham, a preacher who has expressed homophobic and Islamophobic views, earlier this year.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) is suing venues in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Wales for breach of contract. Franklin Graham told the Guardian in February that he was “being denied [a platform] because of religious beliefs”.

The court cases have been highlighted by openDemocracy as part of an investigation that uncovered evidence of millions of dollars spent by the BGEA and other organisations on the US Christian right since 2007 to further their agenda in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

According to openDemocracy, the BGEA spent $20m (£15m) in Europe between 2007 and 2014, the last year for which the organisation’s filings were available.

It says that 28 Christian right organisations it investigated have spent at least $270m worldwide, often on legal interventions to support the restriction of rights, including on abortion, LGBT rights and adoption by same-sex couples.

At least $88m has been spent in Europe, more than anywhere else outside the US. For example, court briefs have been drawn up in support of the Polish government’s abortion restrictions, including a landmark ruling last week outlawing abortion in the case of foetal abnormality.

Franklin Graham – son of the evangelist Billy Graham, president of the BGEA and a staunch ally of Donald Trump – had planned an eight-city tour of the UK in May and June this year. But after protests from LGBT-rights campaigners the venues cancelled his bookings, saying statements Graham had made were incompatible with their values.

According to public court records, the BGEA is a claimant in two cases, one concerning venues in Manchester and Birmingham, and the other relating to venues in Sheffield and Wales (Graham had been booked to appear in Newport).

In March, following the cancellations, Graham said: “As Americans, we should be concerned about the rise of secularism and the potential suppression of religious freedom and freedom of speech in the UK.”

The 67-year-old preacher has said that gay people are “the enemy” and responsible for a “moral implosion”, and that Islam is “an evil and very wicked religion”.

In a letter to supporters last week, ahead of the US election, Graham said: “Religious liberty, freedom of speech, the definition of family and gender, and the protection of the unborn are up for grabs with this election cycle. These are key moral issues that are directed by God Himself and are not up to the court of human opinion. Let’s take a stand for God’s truth and vote according to the scriptures.”

Peter Tatchell, the LGBT rights campaigner, told openDemocracy: “US evangelicals, funded by secret donors, are exporting homophobia around the world … When they say they are defending religious freedom, what they are really defending is the right of religious people to discriminate against LGBTs.”

According to openDemocracy, another Christian right organisation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, has intervened in at least half a dozen cases at European courts. They include a case involving the Christian owners of a Belfast bakery who refused to make a cake promoting same-sex marriage, citing religious beliefs.

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