A Manchester City council chief has said that street preachers should not talk about morality.
Councillor Pat Karney, spokesman for the council and lead member for Manchester city centre, made the comments in response to challenges from The Christian Institute about his crackdown on ‘nuisance’ in the city.
The Institute had asked Councillor Karney to clarify whether the council intends to restrict street preachers, and if so on what legal basis it would be taking action.
“The Christian Institute has long supported the rights of street preachers and has funded several legal cases where local authorities or the police have unlawfully interfered with those rights”, the letter said.
The letter also warned that the treatment of street preachers remains a “helpful barometer of tolerance”, especially in revealing whether public authorities are behaving in accordance with human rights laws, such as freedom of expression.
“Preachers do have a right to be out on the streets but I do not think it right if they are talking about morality.”Councillor Karney
But Councillor Karney confirmed that the police would be continuing to try to clampdown on ‘noisy’ preachers, and he said that preaching which covers sexual orientation is “not proper at all”.
Talking about morality
Commenting in the Manchester Evening News, he said: “Preachers do have a right to be out on the streets but I do not think it right if they are talking about morality.”
“They also sometimes appear in large groups making lots of noise, or have very loud PA systems.
“They’re perfectly entitled to talk about Jesus and the word of God, but not to make anyone feel insecure or threatened”, he said.
The Christian Institute has not yet received a formal response to its letter.
A spokesman said: “We are still no clearer about whether restrictions will be applied to street preachers in Manchester and remain concerned about potential police action.
“Councillor Karney has not provided any legal grounds for this crackdown, and runs the risk of legal action being taken if the free speech rights of street preachers are interfered with.”
Last month Councillor Karney announced that he had launched a taskforce to look at removing pedlars, charity collectors, noisy musicians and street preachers.
The Christian Institute is currently campaigning against the Government’s planned Extremism Disruption Orders, which could restrict free speech.
Former head of MI5 Sir Jonathan Evans has warned that “harmless evangelical street preachers” could be subjected to crackdowns under the new measures, cautioning that “definitions will be crucial”.
He said: “In a secular, liberal democracy like ours, waging this sort of war of ideas is extremely difficult and I have yet to come across a programme, here or abroad, that is wholly convincing. More work is needed.”