Engaging Culture

Is Freedom of Speech Over When it Comes to Christianity?

I’m in London working on a project and picked up a story in today’s “Daily Mail” about a recent arrest of a Christian who simply handed out religious leaflets at a gay rally. Apparently in the United Kingdom, any verbal or printed objection whatsoever to a homosexual lifestyle is an actual crime. No more debate or discussion here. It’s a shocking story, and if you have any faith at all, you need to read this. I’d love to hear your thoughts:

Christian faces court over ‘offensive’ gay festival leaflets
By STEVE DOUGHTY Last updated at 08:48am on 6th September 2006

Evangelical Christian Stephen Green handed out ‘offensive’ leaflets

A police force was caught up in a freedom of speech row after its officers arrested an anti-gay campaigner for handing out leaflets at a homosexual rally. South Wales police admitted evangelical Christian Stephen Green was then charged purely because his pamphlets contained anti-gay quotations from the Bible. Mr Green faces a court appearance today charged with using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior’ after his attempt to distribute the leaflets at the weekend ‘Mardi Gras’ event in Cardiff.

A spokesman for the police said the campaigner had not behaved in a violent or aggressive manner, but that officers arrested him because ‘the leaflet contained Biblical quotes about homosexuality‘. The arrest of Mr Green by the South Wales Minorities Support Unit provoked a furious row. Church of England evangelicals said it represented ‘an onslaught on freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression’ and Tory MPs called it ‘disturbing’.

The decision to prosecute Mr Green is the latest in a series of police initiatives aimed against those who have expressed public disapproval of homosexual behaviour. In recent months incidents have included a Metropolitan Police warning to author Lynette Burrows that she was responsible for a ‘homophobic incident’ after she suggesting on a BBC Radio Five Live program that gays did not make ideal adoptive parents.

Another warning about future behaviour was delivered by Lancashire police who visited the home of a Christian couple after they complained about their local council’s gay rights policies. The Met Police in London also investigated former Muslim Council of Britain leader Sir Iqbal Sacranie after he gave an interview saying homosexuality was harmful. However, no prosecution followed in that case.

The action against Mr Green came after he and a fellow member of his evangelical group, Christian Voice, tried to distribute leaflets at the gay Mardi Gras event in Cardiff. Several thousand people attended the event, which included a gay rugby tournament and a ‘top gayer motor show’, and which was addressed on the importance of tolerance by Liberal Democrat council chief Rodney Berman.

The anti-gay campaigners were first asked by police to leave the site of the show following ‘complaints from the public’, and complied with the request. However, they were approached again by police when they began handing out leaflets at the entrance to the park where the Mardi Gras was staged. Mr Green refused to stop distributing leaflets and was arrested, and then questioned for four hours at a police station. He was charged after refusing a caution.

The leaflets were headed Same-Sex Love – Same-Sex Sex: What does the Bible Say?, and included a series of quotations from the 1611 King James Bible, a text usually regarded as one of the foundation stones of the English language. Aimed at demonstrating Biblical disapproval of homosexual sex, they included from the Old Testament Leviticus 18.22, ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination’.

The leaflets also quoted Romans 1:25-27 from the New Testament, to the effect that homosexuals are given to ‘vile affections’. The handbills urged homosexuals to ‘turn from your sins and you will be saved’. The charge against Mr Green is that he used ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby’, contrary to the Public Order Act 1986. Mr Green’s Christian Voice group is regarded by other evangelicals as particularly militant and it has been heavily involved in demonstrations against theatre performances of Jerry Springer the Opera. However, Mr Green has no record of violence or intimidation.

He said yesterday: ‘I am astonished that South Wales Police have a special unit dedicated to silencing those who disagree with homosexuality.’

He said that the force boasts of working closely with gay groups and added: ‘Maybe they work a bit too closely when an evangelist can be victimized simply because he is giving out leaflets quoting verses from the same Bible police officers swear on in court.’ There was strong support for Mr Green from other Christian groups yesterday. The Reverend Rod Thomas, a Plymouth vicar and spokesman for the influential Reform organization that represents 500 Church of England clergy, said: ‘The methods of Christian Voice do not always commend themselves to other Christians.

‘But if there was nothing involved here other than the content of the leaflets, the arrest represents an onslaught on freedom of speech and on freedom of religious expression. ‘Why gay rights are regarded as more important that freedom of expression I do not know. There is a real danger that those who have tried to support gay rights for liberal reasons may find themselves responsible for suppressing vital liberties.’

Tory MP Douglas Carswell, a member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, said: ‘I disagree with Mr Green’s views but I feel very strongly that he should be allowed to express them.’ The Harwich and Clacton MP added: ‘I take a liberal view on sexuality but I am disturbed that the police should show so much vigour in arresting this man and bringing him before the courts. I am deeply worried about the implications for freedom of expression.’

Colin Hart of the Christian Institute think tank said: ‘This was a very gentle leaflet. There was no use of words like “perversion”. I have to wonder if churches, bishops and archbishops are now vulnerable to arrest for their views on homosexuality. ‘It is noticeable that police never arrest Muslims who make remarks about homosexuality. They pick on Christians because it is easy, just as they pick on middle class drivers for speeding because it is easier than catching burglars.’

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