American evangelist Franklin Graham is again drawing fire from local officials in the United Kingdom as the mayor of Liverpool has called for removing bus ads promoting Graham’s upcoming event due to his religious beliefs.
The ads, placed on buses in Liverpool, ask readers if they are “looking for something more" and show an image of the 69-year-old evangelical leader. The ads also feature information about Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's “God Loves You” Tour event set to take place on May 14 at the Liverpool Exhibition Centre.
Critics of the tour — most notably Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram — have called Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, a “known hate preacher" due to his opposition to gay marriage and radical Islam.
"To say that I'm angry that the views of a known hate preacher — who has an appalling track record of homophobic and Islamophobic views — are being displayed anywhere in our city region would be an understatement," Rotherham told BBC.
The promotion seen on buses belonging to the Stagecoach and Arriva lines was undergoing reviews at both bus companies, the BBC reported, adding that Rotheram wrote both companies requesting the removal of the advertisements.
It’s not the first time Graham has faced pushback for his views in the U.K. Mark Barber, spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said what’s disturbing about this latest row is how public officials — in this case, the mayor of Liverpool — are taking openly hostile stances toward Christianity.
“We certainly respect the rights of others to disagree with us on matters of religious belief,” Barber told The Christian Post. “It is disappointing, however, that public officials who are elected to represent their entire community would describe the traditional views of Christians as ‘hate speech’ and actually use their office to discriminate against them and interfere with the expression of their beliefs.”
Barber pointed to the 2018 case in which Blackpool Transport Services removed advertisements for an evangelistic event featuring Graham. A judge ruled the Blackpool Borough Council and Blackpool Transport Services' actions unlawful in 2021.
“The bus adverts for Rev. Graham’s evangelistic event in Blackpool were confirmed by the court to be inoffensive and the judge observed that the approach taken by the Blackpool Borough Council was ‘the antithesis of how a public authority should behave in a democratic society,’” said Barber.
“What’s more, the judge ruled that Christians who hold traditional Biblical views, including Rev. Graham and the organizers of the evangelistic outreach, are not extremists and must be treated fairly,” he added. “Our hope and expectation is that public officials would take note of this case and execute their public duties reasonably and impartially and welcome people of all religious beliefs.”
The Lancashire Festival of Hope was scheduled for September 2018 before local residents complained and expressed opposition to the evangelist's stances on gay marriage and Islam.
Jane Cole, managing director at Blackpool Transport, further explained the decision to pull the bus ads.
"Blackpool Transport is a proud ongoing supporter of the Pride and LGBT+ communities and in no way did we intend to cause any distress or upset," Cole stated at the time.
In 2021, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and a local church reached a settlement with a Scottish charitable trust that had canceled event bookings featuring Graham and BGEA. In addition to agreeing to pay over $26,000 in legal fees, The Robertson Trust agreed that it violated the U.K.'s Equality Act.
In a 2018 interview with Premier, Graham noted that his father was also opposed when preaching at U.K. events.
"They tried to stop him coming," he recalled. "He was due off a boat into Southampton and there were petitions to stop him coming and members of Parliament speaking against him."
Graham noted that Jesus Christ himself "offended many people" and that the Gospel "still offends people today."
In response to Rotheram, Graham told BBC that there is "nothing offensive" about the advertisements on Liverpool buses.
"Unfortunately, this opposition is familiar and predictable," Graham was quoted as saying.