A BBC report has highlighted some of the religious liberty issues facing Christian street preachers.
Listen to the report
An extract from BBC Radio 4′s Sunday programme, broadcast on 23 August 2009. Visit the BBC’s website to listen to the entire programme.
The report, featured on Radio 4’s Sunday programme this weekend, included a recording of a recent incident where a street preacher was told by police officers that it is a criminal offence to identify homosexuality as a “sin”.
They said this to Andy Robertson, an evangelist with the Open-Air Mission (OAM), even though he had never mentioned homosexuality in his preaching.
Mark Jones, an employment lawyer who specialises in religious liberty issues, told the programme: “Giving offence of itself is not against the law.
“There is no protection that I may have from somebody simply walking up to me in the street and saying something that I might disagree with or I might be offended by.”
Mr Robertson is not alone in encountering problems while preaching in public.
Earlier this month it was reported that a street preacher had been arrested after reading out Bible passages in Maidstone, Kent.
Last summer a street preacher in Birmingham was arrested after he had mentioned homosexuality while preaching about sin and its consequences.
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge told the Radio 4 programme why more cases like this are taking place.
He said: “I think the reason for this increase has been there is a diversity and equality agenda that doesn’t seem to allow for Christians to express their faith in a way where other people may disagree with them.”
He said that sensitivity about issues such as minority faiths and sexual orientation has put police officers and local authorities “under huge pressure to be seen to be responding”.
He added that “sometimes you get over-zealous public officials who want to step in and say, ‘you can’t say that because someone might be offended’, and that over-zealousness is I think part of the problem”.
Another evangelist with the OAM was recorded for the programme as he preached in Hounslow, West London.
Tim Whitton told the reporter: “Our approach generally is just to speak but not shout, to be friendly”.
He said the aim was to make sure that “if anyone is ever offended, they’re offended by the message of the Bible, rather than by anything that we’re doing”.