The Suppression of Freedom of Expression

“The sobering reality here is that the ideological cheerleader for this inconsistent definition of equality is our party of government.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 16/03/2020 [Online] Available: [Accessed: 2020, Mar 10] 

For the first time in history, legal action is being taken against Scotland’s two biggest councils in Edinburgh and Glasgow by two separate organisations over the alleged suppression of freedom of expression. Destiny Ministries, pioneered by Pastor Andrew Owen and his wife Sue, is best known in Scotland for its vibrant network of churches in various towns and cities. Their congregations in Edinburgh and Glasgow alone have a combined weekly attendance of over 2,500 men, women and children.

At the end of June each year, Destiny holds its annual conference – Surge – with the location alternating between Edinburgh and Glasgow. This year, the conference was scheduled to take place at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh until a complaint was made in relation to the conservative views on marriage held by one of the speakers – American preacher Larry Stockstill. A Freedom of Information request was filed and it is alleged the one complaint made came from The Times journalist – Marc Horne.

Destiny is now preparing legal action against the SNP-led City of Edinburgh Council, who cancelled the event as the Usher Hall’s majority shareholder. I spoke to Pastor Andrew Owen in Glasgow last week, who said: “The Council argue that Larry is violating their code on inclusivity and object to his use of adjectives to describe his views on sexuality and marriage.” He adds: “However, they have breached their own contract by preventing their own citizens from hiring a publicly-owned building.”

Pastor Owen is currently leading a crowdfund to raise £150,000 in legal fees and after only seven days, pledges were over £22,500. Among their supporters is the former chair of the Scottish Secular Society, Spencer Fildes, who said: I’m a free speech absolutist, though I may disagree with you, I absolutely support your right to express your beliefs.” Owen said: “My concern is, if they succeed in suppressing the Christian message, will they target our Jewish and Muslims friends who hold similar views?”

All of this takes place in the shadow of an equivalent decision by another SNP-led administration. Glasgow City Council cancelled an event scheduled in May at the SEC where American evangelist Franklin Graham was to speak. The cancellation, due to Graham’s opposition to LGBT relationships, is now being legally challenged by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The sobering reality is that the ideological cheerleader for this inconsistent definition of equality is our party of government.

No matter how we perceive the conservative nature of the views held by these men, a truly democratic society must affirm the right of all people to adhere to whatever views they so choose and, therefore, the flexibility of our tolerance must extend beyond viewpoints which we deem tolerable. Any threat to democracy is a threat to every one of us and this is a watershed moment, not only for Destiny Ministries but Scottish society as a whole. The SNP should reflect deeply and tread carefully.