A church in the United Kingdom has sued a property owner for canceling a rental agreement over the church’s commitment to biblical marriage, the union of one man and one woman.
Stirling Free Church had a contract to use property owned by the Robertson Trust, a multimillion-pound organization, the U.K.’s Christian Institute said.
“But when trust chairwoman Shonaig Macpherson learned of the agreement, the contract was terminated. Macpherson reportedly objected to the church’s biblical belief that marriage is between one man and one woman,” the institute said Tuesday.
A hearing on the dispute is scheduled later this month.
The institute explained that in the United Kingdom, it is “unlawful for providers of venue facilities to discriminate against people because of their religious beliefs.”
“The U.K. courts say the religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman is protected under equality and human rights law.”
The trust, after agreeing to rent its property to the church and then reneging, claimed it has a policy “preventing it from letting space for activities promoting religion or politics,” the institute said.
Rev. Iain Macaskill, the minister of the church, explained: “We are a thriving church that welcomes all people and preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were shocked to be told we could no longer use the Barracks for our Sunday services.
“We had negotiated with the trust in good faith and their contract expressly refers to us using the premises for religious worship.”
He explained the church’s belief in marriage as the union of a man and a woman is “a mainstream Christian belief shared with the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.”
And he said church officials had no other option but to pursue a legal claim.
The trust also is under fire from the U.S.-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which had a contract for a one-time meeting that was terminated by the trust without explanation.
Spokesman Roger Chilvers had booked a room in the trust facility for a training course that later was canceled.
“We made it clear to the venue at the time of booking that we are a Christian organization. It was only later that they came back and said they were cancelling our booking because of our religion,” he said. “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. This is anti-religious discrimination, plain and simple, and we are hopeful the court will uphold our claim and recognize the inequities present in this case.”
Simon Calvert, the institute’s deputy director for public affairs, said it’s “quite clear there is some hostility within the trust toward Christian beliefs about marriage.”
“But these beliefs are protected by equality and human rights law,” he said.
The trust was sued last year by its chief executive over religious discrimination. Kenneth Ferguson, the former CEO, sued for unfair dismissal and religious discrimination.
And the institute noted exchanges with other trustees revealed Macpherson was “incandescent” when she learned the property was being rented to Christians.
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