Hey coppers, please leave preachers free to rant and rave
I’ve said so in the past, and I’ll repeat it again. Street preachers are clowns and and should be left to spout whatever drivel they they want without let or hindrance. People are can choose to listen to their flapdoodle or roll their eyes and simply stroll on by. And I’m by no means the only one that thinks this way.
So I wasn’t too pleased to learn today that free speech has again come under attack – this time at the trial of two evangelical nutters, Michael Overd, 52, right, and Michael Stockwell, 50, above left.
According to this report, the pair were found guilty this week of creating “religiously aggravated public disorder” in Bristol. The men were each given a £300 fine and ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and prosecution costs of £3,372 each – totalling £2,016 each.
The presiding magistrate at Bristol Magistrates’ Court, Robert Stacey, heard that the comical duo were reading from the King James Bible, but “crossed the line” with their preaching at Broadmead on July 6, 2016. Crowds of up to 100 people gathered around the men shouting “go home” and tried to unplug their microphones.
During a three-day trial at Bristol Magistrates’ Court, prosecutor Ian Jackson told the court how Overd called the crowd depraved and ignorant; said Mohammed and Buddha were both liars and thieves, and described extra-marital sex and homosexuals as filthy, depraved and perverted.
Meanwhile Stockwell told the crowd other religions were thieves who came to steal, kill and destroy, and that their gods do not exist.
Stockwell also told the crowd that Allah was the “greatest deceiver” and included homosexuality on a list of things including thieves or drunkards.
Stacey said the trial revolved around whether their behaviour crossed the threshold from their right to free speech to the realms of public disorder.
He ruled that their comments were:
Inflammatory and extremely offensive … they crossed to behaviour that was abusive and in most respects were disorderly. The preaching was very loud and observed by a crowd of between 50 and 100 people. The crowd became restless and feared violence would ensue.
The conduct was in sight of persons that were caused alarm or distress. We are sure that as the crowd became more restless, it would be clear to them (the defendants) their conduct was disorderly … we are sure that they were aware their behaviour was disorderly.
Defending the men, Michael Phillips, put in an application to appeal prior to the sentence being passed.
The police requested that Overd be subjected to a Criminal Behaviour Order – similar to an ASBO – to restrict his preaching on the streets. Magistrates adjourned a hearing into the order meaning he cannot not aggressively “insult, humiliate, demean or belittle” until May 22.
It is the third time Overd has been hauled before the courts, although he was acquitted of charges twice previously.
Speaking after the trial, Chief Inspector Andy Williams said:
The police have to strike the balance between the right to freedom of expression and free speech and behaviour that causes a member of the public to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of what is said or done.
The court has today determined that these men crossed that line and used their platform to comment on other religions and sexuality using disparaging and offensive language.
They recorded their preaching on a Go-Pro camera which captured the exact words used and the reaction of those listening. They were fully aware of the impact their preaching was having on their audience and the resulting tension it was causing.
We took statements from 13 members of the public and I’m grateful for their wholehearted support of our investigation and to those who gave evidence in court.
Bristol is a diverse city which is proudly respectful and tolerant of different perspectives and views and this conviction underlines our commitment to work with the community to keep the city free from hate and intolerance.
Captain Adrian Clark, 51, from St Werburghs, was standing trial with the men before magistrates decided there was no case for him to answer, during the second day of the trial.
Meanwhile the case against Don Karns, another American preaching with the men, was dropped prior to the trial beginning.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn