Council backs down over Christian tracts

St Edmundsbury Borough Council has backed down over its attempt to stop a Christian from handing out evangelistic leaflets to members of the public.

Brian Dee, a member of The Open Air Mission (OAM), had been preaching in the Bury St Edmunds Market Place on Wednesday afternoons for more than ten years, and handing out Christian tracts.

But in January this year, Council officials told Mr Dee that distributing the leaflets was prohibited under a local by-law aimed at reducing litter.

Mr Dee contacted The Christian Institute, which was able to support his case through its Legal Defence Fund.

Mr Dee’s solicitors were concerned that the Council’s actions threatened Mr Dee’s rights under the Human Rights Act (1998), which protect individuals’ freedom of expression and religion.

The solicitors informed the Council that if it continued to prevent Mr Dee from handing out the leaflets, Mr Dee would proceed with legal action.

The Council has now admitted that there were no complaints or evidence that Mr Dee’s leaflets were causing a littering problem, and has told Mr Dee that he can continue distributing them.

They have also offered to review the by-law to see if it is inconsistent with human rights legislation.

The Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We are delighted that common sense has prevailed in this case.

“We live in an open society, and to preserve democracy it is important that we have freedom to exchange ideas without interference from public bodies.

“We are glad that St Edmundsbury Borough Council has recognised Mr Dee’s right to hand out Christian leaflets and are pleased that Mr Dee did not have to take further legal action to exercise his free speech and religious liberty rights.”

This is the latest example of local authorities attempting to prevent Christians from handing out evangelistic literature in public.

In 2007, another OAM evangelist was given an unconditional apology by Carlisle Council after officials told him to stop handing out tracts.

In 2005, members of two churches were told by police officers to stop distributing leaflets in Newcastle. The Police immediately accepted their mistake and emailed all officers responsible for city patrols informing them of the law.