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BGEA, Scottish church sue charity over 'anti-religious discrimination' for canceling event

The Robertson Trust
The Robertson House, headquarters for The Robertson Trust, a charitable grant-making organization founded in 1961 and based in Glasgow, Scotland. |

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and a Scottish church have sued one of Scotland's largest charities, alleging discrimination because of their religious beliefs. 

Stirling Free Church and BGEA have sued The Robertson Trust over its decision to cancel a contract with the evangelical entities for the use of its Barracks Conference Centre for a Sunday worship service and a training session. 

The plan was to host an event at The Barracks Conference Centre to train churches for an outreach program known as the Graham Tour U.K., but the Trust canceled the agreement.

The litigation is being coordinated by The Christian Institute, based in England, with the case scheduled to be heard in Glasgow Sheriff Court next week.  

Robert Chilvers, BGEA’s U.K. director of Training and Church Ministry, said in a statement emailed to The Christian Post that this was “anti-religious discrimination, plain and simple.”

“If the Barracks was a religion or belief organization, the law would allow it to be selective in not hiring out its premises to groups that don’t share its beliefs. But the Barracks is not a religion or belief organization,” Chilvers told CP. “It is a neutral space, offered to the public at large. You can’t have a situation where religious groups are banned from hiring neutral spaces. That is not a free society.”

Gerry McLaughlin, a spokesperson for The Robertson Trust, said in an emailed statement to CP that the board of trustees' vice chair said the claims of discrimination were “completely unfounded.”

“The decision to cancel the hire of The Barracks Conference Centre by the Free Church of Scotland at Stirling and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was based entirely on our policy … which states that we do not fund or support projects and activities which incorporate the promotion of political or religious beliefs,” McLaughlin said.

“On discovering the breach to our policy, the trustees took immediate action to cancel the booking and reimburse the heavily subsidized charity rates that had been offered in error to the Free Church of Scotland at Stirling and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,” he added.

In an interview with the Times of London, Chilvers of the BGEA disputed the Trust's claims that they were unaware that the organization is Christian. 

“We made it clear to the venue at the time of booking that we are a Christian organization,” Chilvers said. “It was only later that they came back and said they were canceling our booking because of our religion. You can’t have a situation where religious groups are banned from hiring neutral spaces. That is not a free society.” 

The Rev. Iain Macaskill of Stirling Free Church, told the Times that they were being discriminated against because of their belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. 

“We were shocked to be told we could no longer use the Barracks for our Sunday services,” Macaskill said. “We had negotiated with the trust in good faith and their contract expressly refers to us using the premises for religious worship."

McLaughlin contended to CP that the Trust “is proud of its work with faith-based organizations, with whom we work closely to address the issues of poverty and trauma in communities across Scotland.”

“In the last six years, the Trust has funded over 130 religious organizations for their inclusive community projects where promotion of religious beliefs or worship was not core to delivery, providing over $3.4 million (£2.5 million),” he added.

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