Artillery Row

Freedom of speech and the freedom to preach

How can “misgendering” mean you end up in a cell?

The reason I preach could be summed up in an email I received from a young man this week.

I had been preaching outside a college in West Yorkshire and the man had been part of the crowd listening.

I preach a very clear message on sin, the need for repentance, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Things can get emotional. On this particular occasion, the young people who were listening had become quite rowdy. This can sometimes be the case with groups of people. My message is challenging to people’s lifestyles and can seem offensive.

The young man was in the crowd when someone decided to throw water at me.

The email I received this week told me how ashamed and sorry the young man was about the manner in which the crowd had behaved. He told me his life had been very dark but had now been dramatically transformed. He had now become a Christian. He thanked me for sharing God’s word and said he knew I had forgiven him.

Emails like this make all the challenges worthwhile.

Although preaching can be challenging, there are times when people are quiet and peaceful and will listen to what is being said. There have been times where men or women have sat and quietly listened to the message and come forward to respond to the Good News. People who had been contemplating suicide have heard my evangelism and been totally transformed.

The man identifying as a woman went off and phoned the police

I have been preaching for 15 years all around the UK. Most of the British public nowadays would not think of entering a church to hear about Jesus Christ, so I believe it is important to bring the Good News out onto the streets, so all people can hear and have an opportunity to respond.

God does not discriminate — he calls all to repent and welcomes all to be saved.

I preach on all types of sin. However, most people ask questions and want to talk about issues surrounding same sex relationships and gender issues. Some of these questions come from a genuine desire to understand what God feels about these topics. However, I find some questions are disingenuous and largely designed to cause trouble and close down the preaching.

This was the case with the recent arrest I experienced in Leeds City centre. I was preaching to a small group of people, when I was approached by a man dressed and acting like a woman. He asked me if God accepted the LGBTQ+ community — to which I had responded that God hates sin.

I addressed the crowd with the question that had been asked. (This is a method I use to engage the crowd.) I told them “this gentleman” had asked a question about if God accepts the LGBTQ+ community. Once I had said this, I ended up being heckled by other people who argued that this was a woman and as much a “woman” as a biological woman. This went back and forth for a few minutes until I managed to finish answering the question and move on.

The man identifying as a woman went off and phoned the police. He came back and continued joining in with the crowd — singing, laughing and even sitting on the floor continuing to listen to me preaching, as I carried on answering questions.

The crowd continued to grow, some behaving threateningly. Someone even stole my speaker. 

When the police arrived, the people calmed down somewhat and the officer asked me to stop preaching, which I did. When I told the officer what had happened, he was angered and snapped: “she’s already told you she is a woman”. I was handcuffed and arrested.

Police officers should learn to serve the public without fear or favour

I was taken to Elland Road station, where I stood and thought “this is absurd and must be overturned at some point”. I was kept in the cells for 14 hours overnight and released after an interview in the morning. I thought the CPS would watch the footage and throw the case out — but they didn’t and charged me. At the magistrates I was flabbergasted when the judge ruled in favour of the CPS and charged me with 80 hours community service and a £700 fine. The lady at the probation service also reported me to “Prevent” – the anti terrorism organisation. I found this incredibly disturbing given that I am a law abiding, hard working family man who just happens to be a Christian preacher. 

Of course, I was going to appeal and even go all the way to the High Court. However, I was delighted that at Crown Court I was granted my appeal.

Police officers need to respect the freedom of expression of Christian open air preachers — to stop being biased against them and instead behave professionally and impartially. Often, it seems that the police are afraid to deal with a rowdy crowd and favour heckling and abusive onlookers. They should learn to serve the public without fear or favour.

We need to make sure that no new laws are passed which hinder free speech — and to reform those which are already in place. For example, Public Order Section 4a needs amending, to remove the word “insulting” — as was done with Public Order Section 5. I feel that this law is used to shut down and even justify arresting people on behalf of an offended hearer — who, after all, is not obliged to listen.

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