The Edinburgh Evening News reports that a church is suing Edinburgh City Council over the right to host an American preacher who has described homosexuality as “not normal behaviour”. Destiny Church, which is based in Glasgow, had booked the Usher Hall for its three-day “Surge Conference” in June: one of the invited speakers was Larry Stockstill, from Louisiana, who had written in his 2007 book He Teaches My Hands to War, “Don’t be deceived. Homosexuality is not normal behavior and it is not accepted by God.” After complaints, the Council cancelled the booking in January.
Lindsays Solicitors, which is acting on behalf of the church, avers that the Council’s actions contravene UK equality law and the freedom of expression and freedom of religion provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. A representative of Destiny Church is quoted as saying:
“We understand that this is a fairly clear-cut breach of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the freedom of expression, enshrined in the ECHR. Under the Equality Act 2010, the City of Edinburgh Council is also discriminating on the grounds of religious belief. We organised an event, which we are free to do, at which speakers will express their religious views, as they are free to do. It is unlawful for the City of Edinburgh to cancel an event because it determines that the views previously expressed by a speaker are not acceptable.”
To which the Council responded as follows:
“The Destiny Church event at the Usher Hall was cancelled due to the keynote speaker’s publicly-stated views about same-sex relationships which are, in the council’s opinion, offensive and discriminatory. We are committed to promoting diversity and equal rights for all. The proposed event did not meet the standards which we expect from those hiring and visiting our venues to respect and observe and the booking was therefore cancelled. The Council is mindful of the need to protect freedom of speech but will not allow its venues to be used as a platform for speakers who discriminate against particular sections of society. The Council will vigorously defend its position in order to protect and promote diversity and equal rights for all.”
The dispute looks like a classic case of “clashing rights”: the rights of the pursuers under Articles 9 & 10 ECHR to manifest their religion and freely to express their opinions, and the rights of the defenders not to have their premises used – possibly – to promote views which they regard as abhorrent.
Both Article 9(2) and Article 10(2) provide a saving for “the protection of the reputation or rights of others”, while Article 8 guarantees the right to respect for “private and family life, home and correspondence”. Given that same-sex relationships are not against the laws either of Scotland or of the rest of the UK, might the City Council be successful in arguing that by cancelling the booking it is seeking to protect the reputation and Article 8 rights of same-sex couples in its community? Watch this space.
[With thanks to BYU Law School’s Law and Religion Headlines.]