A city council in the U.K. has warned that Franklin Graham's Festival of Hope, which is expected to take place in Blackpool later this year, could be canceled if the event is found to incite hatred.
Graham, the CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), will be joining Lancashire churches in holding the event at the Blackpool Winter Gardens from Sept. 21-23, according to Premier. But nearly 7,500 people have signed a petition calling for the event to be shelved over Graham's conservative views on homosexuality and Islam.
In response to the controversy, the Blackpool Council reiterated its stance on the organization of public events, saying the matter will be forwarded to the concerned authorities and that it will not hesitate to cancel the event if it is found to constitute incitement to hatred.
Councillor Maria Kirkland, Blackpool Council's cabinet member for Third Sector Engagement and Leisure Services, noted that the Home Office will be left to decide whether Graham's previous remarks constitute incitement to hate, which is considered a criminal act in the U.K.
Explaining the council's plan to allow the event to take place at the Winter Gardens, Kirkland stressed that the council has a contractual obligation to BGEA to honor the venue booking.
"Furthermore, we equally accept the crucial democratic principles of free speech and associated rights of religious expression under the Human Rights Act," she added.
Last month, some members of the U.K. Parliament expressed their concern about Graham's visit to Blackpool.
Paul Maynard, a Blackpool MP, said that he had written a letter to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, urging caution over Graham's visit.
Gordon Marsden, a Blackpool MP, called on the home secretary to consider refusing entry to Graham, saying the evangelist may have broken laws on hate speech.
"I think frankly the evidence is piling up that his visit to the UK ... would not be a good thing and not probably in my view a very Christian thing," Marsden said.
In a statement shared with The Christian Post in December, the BGEA said that it is working in partnership with local churches to deliver a "message of hope" in England.
"It will be a positive and encouraging event with music and a message from Franklin Graham about the hope that can be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It will be free and everyone is invited to attend," the statement added.
In a separate Facebook post later that month, Graham maintained his stance that homosexuality is a sin but stated that he does not hate gay people.
"If they choose to live that lifestyle, they certainly have the freedom to do so in this country — but don't tell me what I have to believe or participate in," he wrote.