Street Evangelist Complains about Police

Following on from yesterday’s post, the Christian Institute has posted a video hightlighting the case of a street evangelist in the UK who was warned by a policeman that expressing the view that homosexuality is sinful would be an offence under Public Order legislation; the policeman said that complaints of “homophobia” had been made, while the evangelist maintains he had not even spoken on the subject.

Various sites (here, here, and here) have picked the story up, some seeing it as another instance of “persecution”. It’s certainly troubling on free speech grounds, but to keep a sense of proportion the Christian Institute’s own documentation ought to be consulted:

Andy Robertson, a street preacher with the Open Air Mission (OAM), was suddenly told by his local council that he could no longer preach in Gainsborough marketplace. Local by-laws relating to market traders were cited at one point and the police were called in by the Council. Mr Robertson was also accused of making homophobic remarks, but this was unsubstantiated.

Solicitors wrote to the Council informing them of Mr Robertson’s legal right to continue preaching, and warned them that legal action would be taken unless they recognised this right. Further legal correspondence ensued. Following that correspondence, Mr Robertson has continued to preach without any further complaints or objections being raised.

So, a policeman on the ground who wasn’t particularly well-informed tried to use Public Order as the easiest way to defuse a complaint, when he should have considered the importance of protecting free expression. However, Robertson knew his rights, stood his ground, got legal back-up, and issue appears to have been resolved. And that’s it, although the Institute notes a few other instances as well (one involving tract distribution in a Muslim area).

The Open Air Mission was founded in 1853, and was created to make street preaching respectable (see James Winters, London’s Teeming Streets); among its  current targets is the theory of evolution, and it has a history of opposition to Roman Catholicism (Robertson’s conversion narrative includes a negative reference to the “Roman Catholic religion”). However, its style far more low-key than the American “confrontational Evangelism” I blogged on here.