British Street Preachers Arrested for Offending Pro-Gay as Well as Muslim Crowds
Three street preachers were arrested last year in Bristol, England, two of whom were convicted of disorderly conduct and using “threatening and abusive words … likely to cause alarm,” according to a British magistrate. In a video captured by one of the men, Michael Overd, his preaching the gospel brought the pro-Gay, pro-Muslim crowd to an uncontrolled frenzy. This got the attention of the local police, who arrested Overd, not the unruly crowd.
“There’s a line of freedom of speech, okay?” The officer explained to Overd. “But it’s when you’re causing a disturbance, okay, that is aggravating people, antisocial behavior, which you were causing, you have been detained.” When asked how he was causing the behavior, the officer responded, “Because of what you were saying, people were getting angry.” The officer accused Overd of challenging “homophobia” and “Muslims.” When Overd responded that he was only saying what the Bible said, the officer replied, “That’s fine.” “Well if it’s fine, why have you arrested me?” questioned Overd, to which there was no reply.
While the officer was steps away questioning whether he could charge Overd with a crime, Overd commented, “It used to be that the police would arrest those guys trying to hurt us.”
The street preachers had engaged in a conversation with Muslims on another occasion. Michael Stockwell, one of the preachers, said that if people were trying to come through any other faith than Christianity, “the Bible says you’re a thief and a liar and a thief comes to steal and destroy,” which raised the ire of the Muslims listening.
The judge convicted Overd and Stockwell of the charges. Now both face up to six months in jail. The third street preacher was released.
Both arrested preachers are represented by the Christian Legal Centre, which is funding their defense. Andrea Williams of the firm said that an appeal was filed. “We’ll take this all the way to the European Court if we have to,” she told LifeSiteNews. “Today’s ruling, in effect, states that [the] Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public.”
The Crown prosecutor, however, argued that Biblical claims about Jesus Christ would be offensive and threatening to non-Christians. Prosecutor Ian Jackson told the court, “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.” Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 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,” so the men’s actions were legally “offenses.”
The concern for Williams is the precedent set by the arrest of the preachers, not the troublemakers. “That puts us in a very dangerous place,” she said. “The job of the police is not to stop free speech. There have been people preaching in the street forever.”
“Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted,” Williams continued. “In today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”