UK High Court judge tosses most of order against free speech of Christian street preacher
October 8, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A Bristol Magistrates Court judge rejected an order to threaten a Christian with jail time for public speech on life, marriage, and sexuality on Monday.
For years, street evangelist Mike Overd has been subjected to fines and legal battles over his preaching on topics such as abortion and homosexuality. Most recently, Avon and Somerset Police applied for a civil injunction against him for “anti-social behaviour” under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, Christian Concern reported.
The order would subject Overd to potential arrest, imprisonment, and contempt of court if he failed to abide by its conditions, which would forbid him from using an amplifier, standing on a soap box while preaching, using signs or placards, coming within 80 yards of the Millsttream House abortion facility in Taunton, preaching for more than 20 minutes per day in any single locality, or any other words or actions in public that were deemed to constitute “breaching the peace.”
However, Judge HHJ Cotter QC ruled Monday that Overd will only be barred from using an amplifier, and from calling anyone a “murderer” within 80 yards of tthe Taunton facility, though he can continue to display signs bearing the message “aboriton is murder.”
“This is the second time the police have brought an application for an injunction against me, and they are running out of options,” Overd responded. “I never called anyone a murderer, so I was happy to agree not to do this. I am happy not to use an amp, because I have a pretty loud voice and I appreciate that not everyone wants to hear the message.”
But while free speech advocates such as Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which represents Overd, are pleased with how much of the order was rejected, they warn that free speech remains far from secure, particularly while the “anti-social behavior” law remains on the books.
“What we have found at the Christian Legal Centre is that police around the country often believe that if someone is offended by a message that they don’t agree with, a crime must have been committed,” CLC chief executive Andrea Williams said. “This simply is not the case and has led to many false arrests and prosecutions. It has to be accepted that Mike’s messages can be hard-hitting, but it is not the place of the state to police his message.
“We welcome today’s ruling, but Mike’s case shows that unless we stand up for the preachers, there is a real risk that eventually they will come for the ‘moderate’ Christians; the pastors who preach and the everyday Christians who talk to their friends about controversial subjects,” she warned.
The remainder of the injunction against Overd will remain in effect for two years. Overd, who has been arrested four times and prosecuted five for his speech since 2011, will be bringing a claim for harassment, false imprisonment, assault, malicious prosecution, and infringement of rights against the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police in December.