On Tuesday, two street preachers were convicted in England for engaging in a verbal skirmish last July in which they quoted the Bible to a crowd including Muslims and LGBT supporters.
The British magistrate convicted Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell of disorderly conduct and using “threatening and abusive words … likely to cause alarm.” The men were both fined roughly $370 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of $37. They’ll also have to jointly pay court costs of over $4,000. A Criminal Order Behavior application will be made against Overd in May. The two men may face six motnsh in jail.
Chief Inspector Andy Williams defended the arrests, saying:
The police have to strike the balance between the right to freedom of expression and free speech and behavior that causes a member of the public to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of what is said or done. The court has determined that these men crossed that line and used their platform to comment on other religions and sexuality using disparaging and offensive language. They recorded their preaching on a GoPro camera which captured the exact words used and the reaction of those listening. They were fully aware of the impact their preaching was having on their audience and the resulting tension it was causing.”
As Christianconcern.com reported, Prosecutor Ian Jackson told the court, “although the words preached are included in a version of the Bible in 1611, this does not mean that they are incapable of amounting to a public order offence in 2016 . . . To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”
Michael Phillips, representing the defendants, responded, “This prosecution is nothing more than a modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the Public Order Act.” He added, “Every negative remark about other religions and ways of life are taken straight from those texts. The preachers do not use inflammatory language, but simply the language of the Bible. If it is the case that the crown seeks to ban biblical scripture, that would be a bold move.”
As Lifesitenews reports:
The Crown prosecutor argued that Biblical claims about the unique, salvational role and divine nature of Jesus Christ were bound to offend and threaten non-Christians. That makes them offenses under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that prohibits “threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.”
When the men were arrested, the arresting officer confronted one of the men, saying, “People were getting angry. You were challenging homophobia. You were challenging Muslims.” The officer then accused the men of “anti-social behavior.” Christianconcern.com reported of the police, “After asking one preacher to turn down his megaphone, which he did, they arrested four men, throwing one to the ground. They took them to a police station, charged three and released them all.
Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre, which is funding the men’s defense, said, ““The aggressive treatment of Mr. Overd and his friends by the police and prosecution is shocking. We will argue [on appeal] that the police did not act in a reasonable manner. The sensible way to restore public order would have been to ask the crowd to move off. Or they could have asked the preachers to move off.” She added:
We’ll take this all the way to the European Court if we have to. Today’s ruling, in effect, states that Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public. The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today. So it is extraordinary that the prosecution, speaking on behalf of the state, could say that the Bible contains abusive words which, when spoken in public, constitute a criminal offense.
Williams told Lifesitenews: “Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted. today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”
“It is extraordinary that the prosecution, speaking on behalf of the state, could say that the Bible contains abusive words which, when spoken in public, constitute a criminal offense.”
Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre
Our motivation for public preaching is love. We want people to have access to the good news about Jesus Christ. I am shocked that God’s message of love, is now considered hateful and dangerous. Today, speaking God’s truth seems to be a hate crime, according to some. There is a very disturbing pattern here. We declare Jesus’ message and critique rival beliefs such as Islam. Some people don’t like what we say, and threaten violence to silence us. Then, instead of defending free speech and protecting us, the police shut down free speech to avoid public disorder. And then a court convicts us of provoking disorder and risking violence! Something has gone badly wrong. This gives a green light to Islamists and other groups to silence speech that they don’t like, simply by threatening disorder or violence.