A Christian organisation branded as an anti-LGBT hate group has been invited to Edinburgh for a debate on whether Christians should support the criminalisation of hate speech.

Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADFI) is the global wing of a fundamentalist Christian group from America which opposes euthanasia, abortion rights and same-sex marriages.

Its executive director, Paul Coleman, is due to speak at an event on Friday hosted by the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. He will take part in a debate on whether hate speech should be legal.

Tomorrow’s event is called The Great Debate and is advertised as “one of the most significant debates in recent years on the role of Christianity in Scottish public life”.

“It will tackle the vital questions of Christianity’s relevance to modern society, the use of Christian principles in medicine, and the Christian understanding of free speech,” said the organisers.

However, one critic accused ADFI of being “extremists promoting hate” and asked for Coleman’s invite to be withdrawn.

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ADFI has a multi-million dollar budget but does not disclose who its funders are. It has been accused of pouring nearly £40 million of “dark money” into Europe for political influence and of links to the far right. It opened an office in London two years ago and has spent at least £410,000 in the UK.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which monitors extremists in America, has described it as an anti-LGBT hate group that has “become one of the most influential groups informing the [Trump] administration’s attack on LGBT rights”.

According to Open Democracy, ADFI tripled its annual spending in Europe between 2012 and 2016, to £2.02 million a year. It now has offices in Belgium, France, Austria, Switzerland and the UK, and spends hundreds of thousands of euros lobbying EU officials, according to separate transparency data.

This year, ADF International also co-hosted an event with the French group La Manif Pour Tous, which has been previously been linked to the far-right party Front National.

ADFI received criticism recently in Scotland for intervening legally in a student row over abortion at Glasgow University.

In March a student council at the University of Glasgow criticised the intervention of ADF in a row over freedom of speech. The Students’ Representative Council said it was disturbing that a foreign organisation had become involved in a local dispute.

The comments came after an anti-abortion society at the university called Glasgow Students for Life was granted affiliation by the Students’ Representative Council following a legal challenge, backed by ADFI.

A spokesman for campaign group, Unite Against Fascism (UAF), said: “The bigoted and extremist far right are getting more savvy with their tactics and they hide their faces by supporting hate groups like Alliance Defending Freedom International.

“The ADFI in America has supported recriminalising homosexuality, defended state sanctioned sterilisation of trans people and claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society. They are extremists promoting hate.

“I think the other speakers at the conference would be horrified to find that they will be sharing a platform with such bigoted extremists and the event organisers should withdraw their invite for Paul Coleman from ADFI. It is one thing to defend free speech, it is an altogether different thing to actively promote hate speech.”

ADF International did not comment in reply to UAF but it has issued a statement about tomorrow’s event: “ADF International’s Executive Director, Paul Coleman, will be speaking at one of the most significant debates in recent years on the role of Christianity in Scottish public life.

“It will tackle the vital questions of Christianity’s relevance to modern society, the use of Christian principles in medicine, and the Christian understanding of free speech.”

These are difficult and controversial questions and it is important that they are debated openly and respectfully. Janys Scott QC

Janys Scott QC, one of the event organisers, said the point was to promote debate about important issues in public life including the “relevance of Christianity generally and the place of Christian principles in the practice of medicine”, as well as freedom of speech.

She added: “We have not actually invited ADF International to the debate, but we have invited Paul Coleman to contribute. He is a solicitor working with ADF International in Vienna. Paul Coleman is arguing the case for free speech.

“These are difficult and controversial questions and it is important that they are debated openly and respectfully. It is, of course in the very nature of debate that different views can be expressed and considered.”

Earlier this month, ADFI launched a new campaign to highlight the “dangers” of euthanasia laws  around the world. The ‘affirm dignity-end euthanasia’ campaign highlights Belgium and the Netherlands as countries of concern as the annual numbers of euthanasia continue to increase.

Coleman said in a statement on the 11 October 2019: “The slippery slope is on full public display in Belgium, and we can clearly see the tragic consequences. According to the most recent government report, more than six people per day are killed in this way, and that may yet be the tip of the iceberg. The figures expose the truth that, once these laws are passed, the impact of euthanasia cannot be controlled.”

He continued: “Belgium has set itself on a trajectory that implicitly tells its most vulnerable, including the elderly, that their lives are not worth living. This is not an example that other countries should follow.”

Tomorrow’s debate will be chaired by Mona Siddiqui OBE, professor of Islamic and interreligious studies at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

Other speakers at the event include Professor David Galloway, the past president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and Lord Purvis of Tweed, former Scottish Liberal Democrat shadow finance secretary. They will debate whether Christian principles should be dropped from medicine.

Photo thanks to Alan Murray-Rust, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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