GARDONE RIVIERA, Italy, July 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – For hundreds of years, Evangelical street preachers have been a normal part of the English cultural scene, but in recent years, a new feature of the political and legal scene has been their frequent arrests whenever they have dared to contradict the sexual zeitgeist and reiterate the Biblical and moral injunctions against homosexuality. British barrister and chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, James Bogle spoke with LifeSiteNews.com this week, saying that the phenomenon is a sign of a deeper problem with British authorities undermining the rule of law and civil liberties.
Bogle said that it is more a matter of policy “at all levels of government” that homosexuality is “a special area” deserving of special protections and treatment.
“But why this particular area, and not other areas?” he said. “Why don’t pro-lifers rate this special protection? Why don’t Evangelical Christians get the same protection?”
In response to the large number of arrests in recent years of Christians under the notorious Section 5 of the Public Order Act, Bogle said, “Particularly in relation to homosexuality, where anybody who criticises homosexual acts or homosexual ‘marriage’ or relationships, there appears to be a police policy to treat this as what is called a ‘hate crime,’ but there isn’t such a thing in English law as a hate crime. There are crimes that might come under a very broad umbrella, but it’s the use of that very broad umbrella that is causing people to have fears about civil liberties.”
“What is happening, instead of groups or individuals getting the benefit of the law evenly and being equal before the law there is now inequality in the application of human rights law in the United Kingdom, in statutes like the Public Order Act or the discrimination [Equality] acts, as a matter of public policy. So the law is in effect being biased.
“The reason for this is that in the nature of human rights law, if you’re not careful, it becomes the opinion of a particular judge, or indeed a police inspector.”
He cited some recent cases in which citizens have even been questioned and “put on a register” by police for objecting to homosexual partners adopting children. These people have been told by police, “We are monitoring people who have views of that sort.”
“This is clearly not an issue of public order. It has moved on to preventing discussion of certain subjects. And this is clearly an interference with our traditions of free speech. Traditions which in the defamation courts are very strongly upheld.”
“Because we have this kind of blanket public policy, particular types of groups will be targeted. This is entirely hostile to the whole idea of the rule of law in a democracy.”
Earlier this month, visiting American street preacher Tony Miano was arrested and held for several hours in Wimbledon when a woman complained that he had stated homosexuality is a sin. Like most of the others, Miano was released without charge, but Bogle says that even without charges being laid such Section 5 arrests have caused “serious inroads into the rule of law and freedom of speech” in Britain.
Bogle said Christians have to wake up to the reality that a real and ongoing threat to the ancient traditions of British law is growing.
Recently Parliament agreed with a civil rights campaign to remove the word “insult” from Section 5, a move that was hailed by Christians and secularist activists alike. But Bogle said that, though the change to that law was welcome, the problem is a much larger one than a single word in a single statute. It is a wider, and more dangerous problem of a general lack of respect by the public authorities for the rule of law.
Section 5, Bogle said, has “tended to be interpreted subjectively,” that is, on the grounds of whether someone has felt personally offended by a given act, which is “unlikely to have been what Parliament intended.” Prohibiting “threatening and insulting” language is understandable,” he added, “if it causes real harassment, alarm or distress of a sort that would alarm or distress anybody”.
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“But if you have a subjective test, then why or how in any country that endorses free speech as much as we do in the United Kingdom could you possibly imagine that someone merely expressing an opinion could cause alarm, harassment or distress. But the fact is that the police have arrested people simply for expressing their perfectly freely held opinion, held in good faith.”
In defamation cases, he said, the courts “have been very astute” in upholding the defence of “good faith” opinions and to protect freedom of speech. “But then when it comes to the criminal law, curiously, through the Public Order Act, fundamental inroads have been made in our ideas of free speech.”
“This is not something that is just being addressed by Christians or people who are hostile to homosexual acts or marriages. It’s also a concern being expressed by ‘liberal’ human rights groups that the law is being applied unevenly.”
He noted that among the coalition of groups campaigning for the change to the Public Order Act that removed the word “insult” was the National Secular Society and the high-profile homosexualist activist Peter Tatchell.
“Peter Tatchell is of course doing this, and he’s quite right to do so, because it means there’s a fundamental inequality before the law which is an inroad of a serious kind into the whole principle of the rule of law.”
“Frankly, it’s a disgrace, that the higher echelons of the police force have allowed this situation to arise. Because what happens in all these cases is, no sooner do they hit the desk of the public prosecutor, or even of the local police inspector, they are immediately rejected, and the person freed. It doesn’t get to a court because the prosecutor knows it hasn’t got a chance because it is contrary to the law.”
He noted that, with so many cases being made public in the newspapers, some senior police officers are no longer allowing these arrests. In addition, a number of people unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned have launched lawsuits against the police.
These arrests, Bogle said, have come from a “faulty public policy approach adopted by someone somewhere higher up” for ideological “reasons of political correctness”. “So officers lower down on the chain are having to release people who’ve been held for four or five or six hours completely falsely, and they end up being sued.”
Merely removing one word, “insult” from the statute is not going to address the problem, he said. “It goes some of the way, because it’s absurd that someone speaking in a public place shouldn’t be allowed to use insulting words.”
“Insulting words are bound to cause somebody, somewhere harassment, alarm or distress. Does that mean you can’t ever say anything that is subjectively construed as insulting even in a political context? Does that mean that leftwing demonstrators can’t shout at rightwing politicians and call them names? Our political tradition has always allowed this.”
“If you’re not going to allow that, where do you go next? Do you prevent free speech in other areas? If you’ve got that sort of approach, you’ve got problems whether you take words out of a statute or not.”