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British borough apologizes for removing bus ads promoting Franklin Graham festival

A judge ruled the removal of the ads was an unjustified interference in freedom of expression and ordered the borough and its transportation provider to post an apology.

Evangelist Franklin Graham on Oct. 2, 2019, in Greenville, North Carolina. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

(RNS) — A British borough council and its transportation provider publicly apologized on their websites for removing bus ads promoting a 2018 event with evangelist Franklin Graham in the English seaside town of Blackpool.

The apology follows a court finding that the actions of the borough council and its transportation provider “discriminated on the ground of religion” and showed “wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression.”

In April, Manchester County Court Judge Claire Evans ruled the removal of the ads was an unjustified interference in the freedom of expression of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which organized the festival.

RELATED: UK judge: Council discriminated in removing bus ads promoting Franklin Graham festival

A consent order detailing the remedies in the case was issued on July 9. In addition to monetary damages of 109,000 pounds (or $150,000) to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, an apology posted to two websites stated:

“We accept the findings of the Court that we discriminated against Lancashire Festival of Hope because of the religious beliefs of Franklin Graham and in doing so interfered with Lancashire Festival of Hope’s right to freedom of speech. We sincerely apologise to the organisers of the event for the upset and inconvenience caused.”

The ads, which were briefly placed on public buses prior to Graham’s 2018 Lancashire Festival of Hope, were taken down after LGBTQ groups mounted a social media campaign that convinced the Blackpool Borough Council that Graham’s beliefs opposing same-sex marriage were offensive.

Graham, who runs his late father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has repeatedly called homosexuality a sin and has spoken against same-sex marriage and adoptions by gay couples.

But the bus ads did not refer to Graham’s beliefs about marriage or human sexuality; they only offered details of the event with the slogan “Time for Hope!”

The Winter Gardens Center in Blackpool is a popular venue and one where Graham’s father, evangelist Billy Graham, also preached. Franklin Graham’s festival drew 9,000 people over the course of the tour, from Sept. 21-23, 2018.

Bus ads for the festival began running July 2, 2018, and were taken down a day later. Instead, the Blackpool Borough Council mounted a rainbow flag over the town hall and lit the tower with rainbow lights.

In a statement this week, Franklin Graham said, “This is an important moment for religious freedom in the UK. We’re grateful to God for the final outcome of this case, and for what it will mean for churches and Christians across the UK in the years ahead.”

The settlement cannot be appealed.

READ: Minnesota governor restricts ‘conversion therapy’ for minors


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