Stop arresting street preachers, says Christian rights group to head of London police
LONDON, July 28, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Exasperated with the numerous arrests of Christian street preachers for speaking against homosexuality, a UK advocacy group has written to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (of London) demanding that guidance be issued to beat officers to put a stop to the problem.
The last straw was the arrest earlier this month of visiting US street preacher Tony Miano for preaching that homosexual conduct is a sin.
“As you might be aware, this is the position adopted by all the major churches in the United Kingdom,” said Andrea Minichiello Williams, the head of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), in the letter to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe of New Scotland Yard. "I hope we can agree that preaching the Gospel on sexual ethics (absent extenuating circumstances) is a lawful activity."
Williams said that not only was the arrest unlawful, so was officers’ questioning on the content of Miano’s preaching.
CLC is asking for the dismissal of the officers involved - PC Green, PC Bailey and PC Rutland - and referral of the incident to Independent Police Complaints Commission. “We assert that such officers are unfit to remain within the Police Force,” said the group.
Miano was arrested and detained for several hours after police received a complaint by phone from one woman with whom he said he had tried to engage in dialogue. Miano said that while preaching on “both heterosexual immorality and homosexual immorality,” he was approached by the woman who, he said, “turned, glared at me and told me to ‘f-off’.” Police subsequently arrived and told him he was “guilty of using homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.”
At the police station he was fingerprinted, had a DNA sample taken and was interviewed “under caution.” At first he was told that he would be charged with an offence under the now-notorious Section 5 Public Order Act.
However, the section under which Miano was arrested,\ has been overturned by an act of Parliament after several similar incidents came to wide public attention. A campaign group on freedom of speech, spearheaded by actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson, argued successfully that the word “insult” needed to be removed from the act. The change in the law, however, has yet to come into effect.
Later that night Miano was abruptly released without charge.
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While he was detained, officers not only questioned Miano about the incident but also about his personal beliefs. “The questioning is unlawful as intrusive to ‘private life’ within Article 8 of the European Convention [on Human Rights],” CLC said in the letter.
“From the transcript it appears as though the officers are convinced that if someone perceives there to have been a ‘homophobic incident’ then they believe an offence has occurred and therefore the speaker can be arrested.
“We remain of the view that no reasonable police officer would arrest a Christian for preaching a Bible message in the circumstances of this case, nor pursue such an offensive line of questioning.”
Street preaching, popular among Evangelicals, has a venerable history in Britain, starting in the 18th century with the Methodist movement when preachers John Wesley and George Whitefield would preach outdoors to crowds that had grown too large to be accommodated in church buildings. But with the sudden growth in political power of secularist ideologies, street preachers are increasingly becoming the most public targets of anti-Christian complaints, with the full cooperation of police. In some recent cases, this aggression against public displays of Christianity has escalated into outright violence.
In an interview with LSN on the incident, James Bogle, British barrister and head of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, said that the removal of the term “insult” from the law was a step in the right direction, but far from an adequate response to the problems created by this law. In the current political climate, Bogle said, “at all levels of government,” homosexuality is considered “a special area” deserving of special protections and treatment.
“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,” Bogle said.
“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.” In most cases, those arrested have not faced charges, or have had the charges overturned by the courts.
“Frankly, it’s a disgrace,” Bogle added, “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.”
The Christian Legal Centre cited several similar cases of arrests for preaching against sexual impurity, and said that the European Court of Human Rights had upheld the principle that “the duty of the Police is to facilitate free speech on controversial speech and not permit a silencing of viewpoints disagreed with.”
“Free speech requires a level playing field,” they added.
Read related LSN coverage:
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