An Important win for freedom of speech.
Ai Law has acted on a successful claim against Blackpool Borough Council with respect to their government decision taken to ban bus adverts advertising an event held in September 2018 at the Blackpool Winter Garden by charity group Lancashire Festival of Hope. The event featured American minister Franklin Graham, son of internationally renowned Christian evangelist Billy Graham, who had visited from the States to take part in a speaking engagement ahead of a planned upcoming UK tour.
The Council made the decision to remove the adverts, which has now been found to have been unlawful and amounted to a direct discrimination, after receiving limited complaints about Graham’s views on same-sex relationships and Islam.
The Council have been found to have unlawfully discriminated against the festival organisers and to have violated their right to free expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council were ordered by the court to make a public apology and pay Lancashire Festival of Hope £25,000 in damages and a further £84,000 in costs.
Counsel for the defence had argued that Graham should be likened to a convicted terrorist for his views, however this claim was entirely dismissed by the Judge who on speaking about the existence of Mr Graham’s views commented that whilst “they may be offensive to some people, […] they cannot properly be characterised as “extremist”.”
During the festival the Council lit the Blackpool Tower in rainbow colours in opposition because they said in evidence that they felt it “was the right thing to do”. It was held that Blackpool Borough Council’s actions had demonstrated a “wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression” finding that the Council had deliberately allied itself with those opposing Graham’s views and such behaviour was “the antithesis of the manner in which a public authority should behave in a democratic society.”
The evidence from the Council was criticised by the Court as “varied and inconsistent”. The decision is an important reminder as to how far the right to freedom of speech must go in a democratic society.
As said by Lord Justice Sedley in Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions  EWHC Admin 733 “Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”
Mr Graham in response to the Judgment said: “This is a huge win in the battle against “cancel culture”. This helps every Christian and church in the UK, confirming what we already know to be true: all believers have the right to openly share God’s truth.”
Blackpool Borough Council public apology acknowledges: “that the advertisements were not in themselves offensive. We further accept that in removing the advertisements we did not take into account the fact that this might cause offence to other members of the public and suggest that some voices should not be heard. […] We accept […] 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 […] for the upset and inconvenience caused.”
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