Protest Planned at Franklin Graham Event in Essex Junction | Off Message

Protest Planned at Franklin Graham Event in Essex Junction


Franklin Graham's tour buses at Perkins Pier on Monday - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Franklin Graham's tour buses at Perkins Pier on Monday
Protesters plan to picket outside a Tuesday evening event by celebrity evangelist Franklin Graham that's expected to draw thousands to the Champlain Valley Exposition.

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, preaches a politicized form of evangelical Christianity that's outspokenly anti-LGBTQ. He's also described Islam as an "evil" religion and suggested that God helped President Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. He supports so-called conversion therapy.

"He's not just a Christian evangelist," said protest organizer Carol Price, of Bristol. "He does have an underside, and that is hate speech and intolerance."

Tuesday will mark the second stop on a Northeast branch of his ongoing Decision America tour that began in 2016 as a call to prayer and the ballot box. The event is part concert, part sermon, and will include a performance by Christian singer-songwriter Crowder. It will take place on the lawn, and admission is free.

Price said she wants to make sure attendees know about Graham's homophobic and Islamophobic views, but that her goal isn't to halt Graham from speaking.

"In a perfect world, Franklin Graham would come to Vermont and no one would go to listen," she said.

Protesters will have to stand in a staging area outside the privately owned Expo grounds, executive director Tim Shea said. Essex police and Graham's private security staff will be on hand, he said.

About 4,300 people attended a similar event in Portland, Maine over the weekend, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, of which Franklin has long been CEO.

The Evangelistic Association, a nonprofit, brought in more than $133 million in revenue last year, according to its online financial report. Last year's 17-city Decision America tour on the West Coast was a $13 million production.

Gates open at 6 p.m., which is when Price suggested anyone interested in joining the protest should arrive. The event begins at 7:30 p.m.

Price said she initially approached a civil rights group about coordinating the protest, but was told they were busy making preparations to protest an upcoming May 30 appearance by former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott in Burlington.