- City of Edinburgh Council has offered an apology and £25,000 in damages to Destiny Ministries after cancelling their three-day conference due to the Christian beliefs of a guest speaker
- The Council acknowledges that its services and facilities should be “available to those of any religion or none”
EDINBURGH (10 June 2021) – The City of Edinburgh Council has admitted that they were wrong to cancel a Christian event on the basis of the beliefs of the keynote speaker. The authorities cancelled Destiny Ministries’ three-day conference, due to be held in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in Summer 2020, after receiving a complaint about views held by guest speaker, American preacher Larry Stockstill. The Council have now acknowledged that it had “failed to meet its equalities duties to Destiny Ministries in terms of the Equality Act 2010 and therefore acted unlawfully.” It also admitted that it had failed to take account of Destiny’s rights as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
“We welcome the decision of City of Edinburgh Council to acknowledge the right of Destiny Ministries, and those invited to speak for them, to express their Christian faith, including through teaching conferences. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are foundations of every free and democratic society, and must be protected for all people. We were pleased to support Destiny Ministries in this matter because freedom of religion includes the freedom to manifest your faith in teaching, practice, and observance – no one should be discriminated against simply because of their faith.” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK.
Destiny Ministries faced discrimination for views on marriage
The Council had cancelled the church conference based on complaints about the Biblically-based views previously expressed by guest preacher, Larry Stockstill, on marriage and sexuality. The Council had deemed such views to be “offensive and discriminatory”, therefore effectively “de-platforming” the speaker in the capital city. After facing a legal challenge from Destiny Ministries, supported by ADF UK, the Council apologised for its failure to uphold the rights of the religious group. The Council recognised that such views are legally protected by the Human Rights Act 1998 and by the European Convention on Human Rights.
“At the heart of this case is the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Destiny Ministries is a Christian organisation which holds to orthodox biblical teaching. The cancellation of its booking was an obvious act of discrimination under the Equality Act, and an equally clear breach of the Human Rights Act,” said Brent Haywood, litigation partner of law firm Lindsays, who acted for Destiny Ministries.
“In a letter before action we tried to show Edinburgh Council why its decision to terminate the contract was unlawful. The Council did not accept this but publicly stated that it would ‘vigorously’ defend itself in any litigation, and that it would not allow its venues to be used as a platform for discrimination. Ironically, facing a full hearing of the case, the Council has now apologised and has accepted that it discriminated against Destiny under the Equality Act and acted unlawfully under the Human Rights Act”, he continued.
“We exist to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world. We hired the Usher Hall in 2020 to run our Surge Conference but the Council mistakenly decided to cancel our booking for reasons that related directly to our religion and belief. We were shocked by this. We asked the Council to change its decision but it would not. After speaking to a range of people in the Christian community, we decided that this serious infringement of religious liberty and freedom of expression had to be challenged in the courts,’ said Andrew Owen of Destiny Ministries.
“We are sad that the case needed to be pursued in the first place but we are pleased that the Council has now apologised and acknowledged that it acted unlawfully under the Human Rights Act and that by cancelling our booking it also discriminated against us in terms of the Equality Act. With this behind us we look forward to being able to make use of Council premises in the future as we bring forward the good news of the gospel,” he continued.
Freedom of Religion and Belief and Freedom of Speech in need of wider protection
The case mirrors a wider trend across the UK, where an increasing number of Christian speakers have been “deplatformed” because of their beliefs. In April, Manchester County Court found that Blackpool Council had discriminated against a Christian group by censoring bus adverts for a festival featuring American guest speaker Franklin Graham. Graham too had previously voiced his Christian views on marriage. More recently, last month, 71-year-old John Sherwood was arrested in North London for publicly preaching on the Genesis verse, “male and female he created them.”
The trend of “cancel culture” against certain views has also manifested on university campuses.
In a nation-wide poll commissioned by ADF UK, 2 in 5 students stated that events were frequently cancelled on campus due to objections to the views held by speakers, and pressure from other student groups. Half of Scottish students felt lecturers would treat them differently if they expressed their true opinions on some important issues.
The “Glasgow Students for Life” society at Glasgow University filed a legal challenge against their Students’ Representative Council in 2019 after having been denied affiliation to the body based on their views on pre-born life. In Aberdeen, the pro-life student society was subject to investigation by their Students’ Union after complaints that their event, “‘Does Abortion violate Human Rights?: Presentation and Q&A”, was “triggering”. In one particularly egregious example, a midwifery student at Nottingham University faced suspension and a fitness-to-practise hearing because of her pro-life views. ADF UK has provided support to students facing censorship because of their beliefs and is collecting signatures on an open letter to the government on the issue, which can be found at www.protectfreespeech.uk.