Time to end the persecution of the street preachers

by John Kersey

Today’s Daily Telegraph reports the treatment of an American street pastor who was arrested after preaching outside a Wimbledon shopping centre. Tony Miano, who in one of life’s little ironies is a former senior police officer, expounded a passage from Thessalonians which deals with sexual immorality and cited homosexuality as an example of contravention of the law of God.

A woman hearing this made a complaint to police, and two officers promptly arrested Mr Miano under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which deals with “insulting words and behaviour”. As Mr Miano explained to the officers, Section 5 has recently been amended so that what is merely insulting is no longer to be an offence. However, despite having been passed by the House of Lords, this change has yet to come into law and the arresting officers claimed that they were unaware of it.

Mr Miano was subject to questioning at the police station concerning his beliefs about the nature of sin and the way he would treat homosexuals. The prospect of police officers discussing hamartiology, which is an abstract and complex area of theology, beggars belief. Mr Miano said, “As the questioning started it became apparent that the interrogation was about more than the incident that took place in the street but what I believed and how I think…I was being interrogated about my thoughts … that is the basic definition of thought police…It surprised me that it is possible for a person to be taken to jail for their thoughts.”

Mr Miano was told that police expected to charge him, but on referral to an inspector this position was reversed and he was released at midnight that day.

Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, which provided Mr Miano with a solicitor, said: “We might joke about there being ‘thought police’ but this case shows that it has already become a reality. Sadly we are seeing cases like this increasingly often”. Given this, it is clear that Christians who intend to be public about the full nature of their faith should be aware of the existence of the Christian Legal Centre and its valuable work in support of those who are persecuted by our political establishment.

Street preaching is an ancient and honourable tradition in Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount is surely its most distinguished example. It also finds an extensive place in English history. Methodism would hardly have existed were it not for John Wesley and George Whitefield preaching in the open air to crowds far greater than a church could accommodate. But Mr Miano is not the first to encounter official opposition as he sets out on a much-needed mission to remind Britons of their Christian roots.

Pensioner Harry Hammond, who preached in Bournemouth holding a placard saying “Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism” was arrested and charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act in 2001. He was convicted, his placards destroyed, and he died soon afterwards.

Philip Howard, who preached in “hellfire and brimstone” fashion for some years at Oxford Circus, was prosecuted for harassment of a passer-by in 2005, and cleared of all charges. The following year, Westminster Council applied for an ASBO in an attempt to silence him. This being granted, he moved to Brixton underground station where I understand he can still be found today.

 New Yorker Shawn Holes, preaching in Glasgow, was fined £1000 after stating  that homosexuals are going to Hell.

Stephen Green – now National Director of Christian Voice, a group with much to say on these matters – was arrested for handing out religious leaflets at a gay Mardi Gras festival in Cardiff in 2006; the charges against him were dropped.

In 2008, American preachers Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham handed out leaflets and spoke with local youths in Birmingham. A PCSO, who was later given “corrective training”, allegedly told the preachers that if they returned to the predominantly Muslim area they would be beaten up.

The tide really appears to have started to turn with Cumbrian street preacher Dale McAlpine, who was arrested and charged under section 5 of the Public Order Act for stating that homosexuals were acting against the word of God. The charges against him were dropped, and he then won £7,000 plus costs in compensation from the police.

Then Anthony Rollins preached in Birmingham against effeminacy and homosexuality and was arrested and charged; in court he was awarded over £4,000 in damages.

Last year, Raj Bhachoo distributed anti-gay leaflets outside a Tesco store in Kent. His case was dismissed by the magistrates.

Against this background, it has been notable that leading gay activist Peter Tatchell has consistently opposed the prosecution of street preachers and has called for the reform of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. He has said,

“Several Christian and Muslim street preachers have been arrested in Britain for hate speech. Their crime? They said that homosexuality is immoral and that gay people will go to hell. I disagree with them but opposed their prosecution. What they were saying was hurtful but not hateful. They did not express their views in a bullying or menacing tone.

“Free speech is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society. It should only be restricted in extreme, compelling circumstances. Criminalising views that are objectionable and offensive is the slippery slope to censorship and to the closing down of open debate. It is also counter-productive. It risks making martyrs of people with bigoted opinions and deflects from the real solution to hate speech: education and rational debate. Hate speech should be protested and challenged, not criminalised.”

Mr Tatchell’s views are not dissimilar to those expressed by Mr Miano, who says, “I believe that every human being should have the right to speak their mind. Homosexuals should have the right to free speech, as should atheists, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. All I’m asking is that we are allowed to be part of the conversation and that society stops treating itself as tolerant when the authorities are intolerant to the Christian point of view.”

Society should indeed stop treating itself as tolerant. The prosecution and harassment by legal process of street preachers is a shameful slur on our tradition of freedom of speech and a thorough waste of public money. It is driven by an intolerant ideology that has no place in a civilized society and indeed is that society’s antithesis. It is this same ideology that listened to Abu Hamza preaching in the street outside Finsbury Park Mosque and did nothing to stop him.

Christian Voice has an explanation for how all this has come about, and it is one which is difficult to gainsay. They say, “It has come to this because our leaders try to run things in their own fallible wisdom.  Even though our Queen was anointed to reign under the authority of God in the Name of Jesus Christ and given the Holy Bible as “the rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes,” her ministers have passed law after law in opposition to the will of God.  They bear a huge responsibility for the way Britain has fallen into sin and misery.  Good laws might not make men good, but they can restrain the wicked, and bad laws certainly encourage men to do evil.”

9 responses to “Time to end the persecution of the street preachers

  1. The militant homosexuals are servants of Satan. The only reason they want to shut people up is because they fear there just may be a grain of truth in the message. There are no militant adulterers or murderers or child abusers or pedophiles or etc. so why do the homosexuals need to have total control over our cogitations and declarations? They can’t get mad being called servants of Satan because none of them believe in His Satanic Majesty. It is time the word which is neutral realized the homosexual militants are indistinguishable from any other type of totalitarian thought police.

  2. I have a great deal of respect for Mr Tatchell.

    He is a very brave man indeed.

  3. Hugo Miller

    I agree totally.

  4. Pingback: Time to end the persecution of the street preachers - SurvivalismUpdates.com

  5. After the government suggested that they would not challenge the Lord’s amendment to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the POA*, the ‘Campaign to Reform Section 5’ patted themselves on the back, put away their pitchforks and went back to their hamlets. Yet, many months later the government has not yet authorised this small change in law and there have been a good number of arrests based on this part of the law since.

    It is anyway hard to see anyway whether this small change will make much difference to these types of case. The secondary element ‘distress’ is almost an open-season catch-all, that allows people to be hauled off for public order purposes, even when they are let out, inconvenienced and made politically warier some hours afterwards.

    I do keep hoping to see a detailed legal analysis of the evolution of prosecutions of thought-crimes in our benighted land.

    * 5 Harassment, alarm or distress.(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
    (a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
    (b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
    within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
    (2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.
    (3)It is a defence for the accused to prove—
    (a)that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or
    (b)that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
    (c)that his conduct was reasonable.
    (4)A constable may arrest a person without warrant if—
    (a)he engages in offensive conduct which [F2a] constable warns him to stop, and
    (b)he engages in further offensive conduct immediately or shortly after the warning.
    (5)In subsection (4) “offensive conduct” means conduct the constable reasonably suspects to constitute an offence under this section, and the conduct mentioned in paragraph (a) and the further conduct need not be of the same nature.
    (6)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

  6. Tolerance through intolerance.

  7. Keith Sisman was encouraged by John’s essay to write as follows:

    8 July 2013
    Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe
    Metropolitan Police Commissioner
    New Scotland Yard
    8-10 Broadway
    London, SW1H 0BG

    Dear Sir Bernard,

    It has been reported in the media1 a preacher, Tony Miano, was arrested for preaching against sin, including homosexuality. As a street preacher myself2 who does not wish to break the law (Christians should be law abiding), I wish to establish what is allowed. As the media can misrepresent the truth I am seeking your advice and further information in this instance.

    There is a long tradition of street preaching in Christianity, we know from the New Testament the first century church was evangelical and preached in streets, market places etc., often to the great distress and upset to those listening. When Christianity came into what is now England it was evangelical (The Celtic Church), this continued with the pre-Reformation Waldensian and Lollard Churches and Reformation Anabaptists (all three names are derogatory, invented by their enemies).3

    More recently (post Reformation) this Biblical tradition has continued with the Churches of Christ (a continuation of the Anabaptists, Lollards & Waldensians), Quakers, some Baptists and even later, the Methodists. I would suggest without knowing more, the preacher arrested was preaching reconciliation to God through God’s love. Christians should not be homophobic or hate homosexuals, but true Christianity is evangelical which requires preaching against sin and reconciliation to God (repentance and baptism). Homosexuality is Biblically classed as sin and hence is going to be an issue for street preachers and those who hold to Biblical teaching.

    Interestingly, the public executioners in London of Lee Rigby were Muslim preachers of hate, known to the security services, but were free to preach their message without arrest unlike the Baptist.

    There is almost a two thousand year tradition of evangelical preaching in public places in our country. If this is going to change, we MUST be told, hence, please can you advise as to what is allowed or not (if that is the story reported is true). If street preaching is to be made difficult or illegal a debate is required. I understand the well known atheist and homosexual Peter Tatchell has supported free speech and defended street preachers, though he disagrees with their message!4

    Yours sincerely,

    Keith Sisman,
    Preacher for the Cambridge City Church of Christ


    Shailesh Vara MP
    House of Commons
    London SW1A OAA

    Theresa May MP
    Home Secretary
    House of Commons
    London SW1A OAA

    1/ See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10159420/Christian-arrested-for-calling-homosexuality-a-sin-warns-of-real-life-thought-police.html

    2/ See http://cambridgecitycoc.org.uk/stand.htm

    3/ See http://traces-of-the-kingdom.org.uk

    4/ See https://libertarianalliance.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/time-to-end-the-persecution-of-the-street-preachers/#more-20177