A district judge has thrown out the case of a Christian street preacher in Colchester who was arrested by police because of comments he made about homosexual conduct.
Paul Shaw, 62, was arrested on February 19 after complaints about his preaching outside a Debenhams department store in the town.
Mr Shaw denied the charges of using threatening words or behaviour and he insisted there was nothing wrong with his conduct.
He said: “I’ve preached regularly for about three or four years without incident.
He also pointed out: “In four years, I’ve only dealt with homosexuality about twice.”
Mr Shaw, justifying his preaching, told the judge he had to act in good conscience and that he thought homosexuality was a particularly significant thing for this nation at this time.
The prosecution could not proceed because there was neither evidence nor written statements from the complainants, resulting in the judge dismissing the case.
District Judge David Cooper asked: “There are other sorts of ‘sins’. Do you think you could concentrate on those for a bit?”
Mr Shaw is not alone in encountering problems while preaching in public.
A moderate Christian preacher, Andy Robertson, was wrongly told by a police officer that it is a crime to publicly express the religious belief that homosexual conduct is sinful.
Police tell Christian: it’s a crimeto say ‘homosexuality is a sin
Greater Manchester, 2007
A five-strong team of police officers investigated complaints that a church’s invitation leaflet to an Easter service was ‘offensive’. Although the leaflet said nothing about homosexuality, the complainant said it was offensive for evangelical Christians to be advertising themselves in an area where there is a “sizeable gay community”.
Police examinechurch’s Easter invite
West Midlands, 2008
Church workers Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham were told by police that they could not preach the gospel in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham.
Police: “you can’t preachhere, this is a Muslim area”
Greater Manchester, 2008
A Christian street preacher in Manchester was silenced, taken into the back of a police van, questioned and detained for over an hour following a complaint of ‘homophobia’.
Miguel Hayworth had been publicly reading from the Bible, from Romans 1:17-32, when a member of the public complained. The officers later released Mr Hayworth and he was permitted to continue preaching.
South Wales, 2006
Stephen Green, a Christian campaigner, was arrested for handing out evangelistic tracts at a gay pride festival in Cardiff. Police admitted that he had not behaved in a violent or aggressive manner, but confirmed that officers arrested him because the leaflets contained biblical quotes about homosexuality.
Mr Green was held at a police station for four hours, questioned, charged and eventually committed for trial. The case against Mr Green was subsequently dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.
In November last year the Government accepted a free speech clause which underlines the fact that criticising homosexual conduct is not, in itself, a crime.
It means the Government’s sexual orientation hatred law includes a protection for the free speech of those who wish to express their beliefs on sexual conduct.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director (Public Affairs) at The Christian Institute highlighted the “many well known cases involving heavy handed policing of Christians” and said the free speech clause was a “victory for common sense”.
Last August a BBC report, featured on Radio 4’s Sunday programme, highlighted the increasing religious liberty issues facing Christian street preachers.
Listen to the report
An extract from BBC Radio 4’s Sundayprogramme, broadcast on 23 August 2009.
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge told the Radio 4 programme: “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”.