Two street preachers, Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell, have been embroiled in a legal battle since July last year, when they were arrested and charged with a Public Order Offence after preaching in Bristol city centre. The two men say they were merely preaching the gospel and answering questions on the difference between Islam and Christianity. Their lawyer, Michael Phillips, told Bristol Magistrates Court that the prosecution was a “modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the public order act”.It remains to be seen if the same standard applies to Muslims who insist that Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his prophet. But then again, we will see.
While in court, the defence argued that Overd and Stockwell have a legal and democratic right to preach and quote from the King James Bible in a public place. In response, prosecutor Ian Jackson reportedly said: “Whilst it is right that if things are said in the Bible, they can be said to be an expression of religious belief – to use words translated in 1611 in a very different context, in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”
He is later recorded saying: “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”. . . Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell have been ordered to pay £2,016 each, in fines and costs. They will appeal the conviction.
It is clear that the path of religious freedom is ever more a path to mere protected thoughts and beliefs and not necessarily anything more. It may include freedom to worship but even in this context there have been challenges to the freedom of the preacher to preach and the teacher to teach contrary to the so-called protected speech of diversity and to the idea that no truth is objectively true.
It is cutting edge, however, to find such speech criminal. That may be the path that liberalism in Europe is moving but it remains to be seen if such is on the radar for the US anytime soon.
Some interesting thoughts as we head down the path to the Cross during Holy Week. . .