Evangelical Preacher Accuses Facebook Of 'Censoring Free Speech' After Getting Blocked

Franklin Graham's Facebook account was temporarily blocked over an old post he wrote attacking transgender rights.
Franklin Graham, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, was temporarily kicked off Facebook amid concerns about a two-year-old post he wrote attacking transgender people’s rights.
Franklin Graham, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, was temporarily kicked off Facebook amid concerns about a two-year-old post he wrote attacking transgender people’s rights.
Bebeto Matthews / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Franklin Graham, a longtime evangelical ally of President Donald Trump, has accused Facebook of “censoring free speech” after being temporarily kicked off the social media site last week.

The 24-hour block on Graham’s popular Facebook account was reportedly prompted by concerns that a two-year-old post he wrote attacking transgender people’s rights possibly violated the company’s standards on hate speech.

Although Facebook has restored his access to his account, the preacher said on Sunday that he believes the block was a “personal attack.”

“If you disagree with [Facebook’s] position on sexual orientation, then you can be classified as hate speech or that you’re a racist,” Graham said during a “Fox & Friends” segment, apparently conflating gender identity and sexual orientation. “And this is a problem.”

He added that although he recognizes that Facebook is a private company that can “certainly do what they want,” he hopes it will come up with a new standard for content “based on God’s word.”

“The Bible is truth, and I hope they would look to the Bible and get some instruction from God’s word,” Graham said.

He is the son of the famed late evangelist Billy Graham and is the president of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Franklin Graham has over 7 million Facebook followers. He often uses his social media accounts to share his opinions on hot-button political issues important to conservative Christians.

The preacher has often made discriminatory remarks against LGBTQ people. He has patently refused to accept the fact that some people have a gender identity that is not fully aligned with the one they were assigned at birth. He has called the movement for trans rights “Deception from the Evil One.” He has also made derogatory comments about trans women in particular.

Ross Murray, the senior director of education and training for GLAAD, told HuffPost that Graham has a “long history of spreading lies and misinformation about the LGBTQ community.”

“And he didn’t stop his false claims in 2016,” Murray said. “Social media platforms have the right to protect their products from being turned into weapons and to remove inaccurate and abusive content like Graham’s original post, which only harasses and brings harm to users.”

Graham revealed on Friday that he was temporarily blocked from posting on Facebook because of an old post about North Carolina’s HB2. The bill, which barred transgender people from using school and government restrooms that matched their gender identities, became law in March 2016.

During the ensuing debate over the law, Graham, who lives in Boone, North Carolina, wrote a short post on Facebook responding to musician Bruce Springsteen’s decision to cancel a North Carolina concert in solidarity with trans people. Springsteen stated at the time that he was raising his voice in “opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

In a post on April 9, 2016, Graham wrote that he believed that HB2 helps “prevent men from being able to use women’s restrooms.” He added that it “protects the safety and privacy of women and children” ― although there’s no evidence to suggest that anti-discrimination protections for transgender people lead to attacks in public facilities.

For Graham, HB2 was ultimately about defending his conservative interpretation of the Bible.

“We need to go back! Back to God. Back to respecting and honoring His commands. Back to common sense,” he wrote in the post. “Mr. Springsteen, a nation embracing sin and bowing at the feet of godless secularism and political correctness is not progress.”

Melania Trump, Donald Trump and Franklin Graham during a ceremony honoring the late Billy Graham in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in February 2018.
Melania Trump, Donald Trump and Franklin Graham during a ceremony honoring the late Billy Graham in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in February 2018.

Under intense backlash from various business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, HB2 was partially repealed one year later.

Graham wrote on Friday that Facebook informed him that his 2016 post violated the company’s “community standards on hate speech.”

Facebook’s publicly posted community standards prohibit hate speech, which it defines as a “direct attack” on people based on a range of protected characteristics, including gender identity. It defines an attack as “violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”

While hate speech is prohibited, the company does allow for critical conversation around topics related to these protected characteristics.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that Graham’s page received a 24-hour block after the company removed a post for “violating our hate speech policies.”

“Upon re-reviewing this content, we identified that the post does not violate our hate speech policy and has been restored,” the spokesperson said.

On Sunday, Graham wrote that he received a message from Facebook that apologized for removing something from his account that didn’t violate its community standards and let him know that this account has been unblocked.

He told “Fox & Friends” that he “accepts Facebook’s apology” and urged fellow Christians ― and Facebook ― to “stand on God’s word.”

“I think as Christians, we don’t back down, and we don’t change who we are and what we say and what we do,” Graham said.

Jennifer Pizer, the law and policy director for the queer advocacy organization Lambda Legal, told HuffPost she believes Graham’s 2016 post spread “dangerous lies” about transgender people. When Facebook allows this kind of rhetoric to spread online, she said, it contributes to a “pervasively discriminatory and often violent climate,” particularly for transgender women.

She said that as a nongovernmental entity that isn’t bound by the First Amendment, Facebook has the right to decide what content is allowed on its platform. However, she said the company has been “tardy” in recognizing its responsibility to act against cyberbullying and other misconduct by its users.

“That nongovernmental entities — including some tech companies — are, belatedly, taking responsibility to reduce the impact of widespread, pernicious lies about LGBT people simply means we can hope that more of our youth will make it to adulthood and be able to thrive with the rest of society,” Pizer said.

This story has been updated with more information from Facebook.

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