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Christian Charity Wins Lengthy Legal Battle After UK Bank Unlawfully Closes Ministry Accounts

Barclays Bank has been forced to pay over £20,000 compensation to a Christian ministry after bowing to the demands of LGBT activists by closing accounts.

In July 2020, the bank notified Core Issues Trust (CIT) and the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC), that their banking facilities would be stopped. Barclays, a top-ranking Stonewall employer and the headline sponsor for London’s Gay Pride parade, appeared to cancel the accounts following a coordinated harassment campaign from LGBT activists.

CIT is a non-profit Christian ministry, based in Northern Ireland, that supports men and women who voluntarily seek change in their sexual preference, expression and/or gender identity. It is the only Christian ministry of its kind in the UK, and a registered charity.

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In Your Inbox

The incident is believed to be a precursor to how activists and institutions will exploit and weaponise the government’s ‘conversion therapy’ ban against anyone that supports the freedom to leave LGBT lifestyles and identity.

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Barclays appeared to have capitulated to demands to cancel the accounts after sustained pressure was placed on them for providing banking services to the Christian groups while also being the headline sponsor for London’s Gay Pride parade. During this time, CIT also lost its Mailchimp, PayPal and Facebook and other social accounts, none of which have been recovered.

On 3 July 2020, LGBT activist Mike Buonaiuto posted on Twitter: “EXCLUSIVE: @Pridelnlondon headline sponsor; @Barclays, are currently enabling UK Gay #ConversionTherapy organisation; @CoreTrust, with a bank account for donations here: core-issues.org/giving to-core … This vile org is still a tax deductible charity in the UK. The government must act.”

He followed up this tweet with: “All #LGBTQ organisations can hopefully weigh in on @Barclays for an answer – who, in turn, can weigh in on the government &  @trussliz , to change the laws & criminalise gay conversion therapy in the UK. @stonewalluk @northernprideuk @UKPrideNetwork.”

Furthermore, he posted: “Our research has shown @Barclays hands may be very much tied until it’s made illegal. Hence the urgency to criminalise.”

At this time, CIT received over 300 nuisance phone calls and other intimidating messages, including a text to its chief executiveDr Mike Davidson, which expressed a hope that staff and family members would be raped and killed.

Threatening calls and emails went on for days, until on 13 July 2020, Dr Davidson received a letter from Barclays Bank which simply read: “After careful consideration we’ve taken the decision to close your account and all facilities on 14 September 2020.”

Until this moment Dr Davidson, like his father before him, had banked with Barclays his whole life. In 2011 when he opened the accounts for CIT and in 2017 for IFTCC, their business had received a ‘warm welcome’.

Buonaiuto followed up his previous tweet by posting on 25 July with a Pride flag symbol: “With your help, @Barclays have, this week, closed the bank account facilitating £100k in donations for the UK’s leading Gay #ConversionTherapy org. Thank you. But, this practice remains legal in the UK. It’s time to #BanConversionTherapy.”

‘Unlawful Discrimination’

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Dr Davidson launched a legal claim against the bank with lawyers stating that the closure of the accounts was ‘an act of unlawful discrimination.’

Lawyers argued that the bank had discriminated against Dr Davidson personally, in that his professional and public work was undermined by the withdrawal of banking services from CIT and IFTCC on the grounds of his religious beliefs and/or political opinion.

Dr Davidson sought compensation  for loss and damages arising out Barclays’ breach of the Northern Irish Fair Treatment Order, primarily for the Charity’s financial losses.

Over 72,000 people signed a petition calling on Barclays to reinstate the account and to stop discriminating against the Christian ministry.

Throughout the lengthy legal battle, however, Barclays Bank refused to apologise, reinstate either bank account or give a reason for closing it.

The multi-billion-pound corporation also made a number of spurious attempts to have the case thrown out.

Pressed on why the account had been closed, lawyers representing Barclays cited Clause 9.4 of its Terms and Conditions which state: “We can close an account (and stop providing any services and end this agreement) by giving you at least two months ‘ notice. In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, the Bank has exercised its contractual right to close the Business Accounts, upon giving two months’ notice.

“It is wholly denied, and you have failed to evidence, that the Bank has discriminated against your clients either directly or indirectly on the grounds of any religious, philosophical or political belief protected by the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.”

However, before the case was due to the be heard at the High Court, Barclays made a settlement offer of £21,500 in compensation with legal costs to follow, which Dr Davidson has accepted.

Since this incident in 2020, similar cases of viewpoint discrimination involving the withdrawal of services by financial outlets have followed.

Writing in the Times, former Supreme Court judge, Lord Sumption, has called for greater protections over access to finance systems and described, for example the actions of PayPal cancelling the Free Speech Union’s account, as an: “Ugly incident [which] should not be forgotten. It reveals the vulnerability of even the most respectable pressure groups to arbitrary action by those who, for whatever reason, object to their message. PayPal may have backed down, but this problem is not going to go away.”

‘People will reach their own conclusions’

Responding to the outcome, Dr Davidson, CEO of CIT, said: “People will reach their own conclusions, as they have on other occasions, when a party offers a financial settlement that costs them, without admitting any responsibility. I want to thank the 75,000 supporters who signed a petition, or complained to Barclays or closed their Barclays accounts. We are thankful too that donations to the work of the trust have doubled since that time.

“What we see in Barclays’ actions is yet another example of Stonewall’s misguided influence in forcing LGBT ascendancy within our society and its institutions. Their agenda will fail, despite Barclays’ lavish support and spending, because the freedom of individuals to decide their own pathways or to leave unhelpful identities cannot be controlled by bankers, politicians, activists or therapists. It is their God-given right.

“Core Issues Trust and the IFTCC will continue to oppose government-mandated sexual identity and its refusal to allow therapeutic choice. We reject Barclays bank’s implied accusations of ‘conversion therapy’, directed at our work and charity.”  

“This case must serve as a warning to the government of what is coming if it proceeds with publishing and enforcing its ‘conversion therapy’ ban.

“From the outset, it was more important to Barclays to appease their Stonewall sponsors than to protect the basic freedom in this country of having a bank account without being discriminated against because of your beliefs.

“Barclays set itself up to enforce a political or religious viewpoint as an arbiter of public morality, and unilaterally ended the accounts before any ‘conversion therapy’ legislation was in sight.

“Through this case we have exposed Barclays’ pre-emptive political activity in trying to damage and silence our charity and the work we do as part of the Christian church.

“The whole experience was frightening and deeply concerning to myself, my family and colleagues. This must never happen again to another individual, church or Christian ministry. The government must act now to protect Christian ministries from such brazen discrimination.”

Warning

Andrea Williams chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “This was an orchestrated campaign by LGBT activists targeting a Christian ministry and Barclays fell for it.

“Rather than standing up for free speech, Christian freedom, and minority rights, Barclays surrendered to the intimidatory tactics of LGBT activists.

“If banks and other service providers placate hardened activists by removing bank accounts from good and law-abiding customers who are being targeted because of their Christian faith then we’re in a very dark place in this country.

“From experience going back over a decade, we have seen that when Mike Davidson experiences persecution on an issue for the first time, church leaders and even secular free speech advocates are next to experience similar discrimination.

“We will continue to stand with Mike Davidson, CIT and any Christian ministry who falls foul of the weaponising of the ‘conversion therapy’ ban.”

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