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Hey coppers, please leave preachers free to rant and rave

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

48 responses to “Hey coppers, please leave preachers free to rant and rave”

  1. sailor1031 says:

    “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.”

    It doesn’t seem as if any ‘member of the public’ was being forcibly held to listen to these people spouting their drivel. The 100 or so listeners seem to have been doing so voluntarily – and with a view to jeering and harassing these preachers. So how could any of them have felt harassed, alarmed or distressed? Wouldn’t he/she just walk away in that case? I would have.

    The other bigger, in a way, problem with all these kinds of cases is that one cannot know in advance what someone else will consider harassing, alarming or distressing. It stands common sense , and justice, on its head if we insist that an initially innocent act becomes a crime only when some oversensitive moron decides their feelings were hurt. Oh how badly UK needs a first amendment!

  2. Eric T says:

    This sort of ranting should be classed as bad manners, not treated as criminal.
    I think we all have a duty to allow ourselves to be offended.

  3. barriejohn says:

    It’s a disaster. The street preachers were making themselves and their idiotic beliefs look stupid; the crowd was openly hostile and holding them in contempt; and now they see themselves as “martyrs”, to say nothing of the precedent that this sets. Doh! I’m turning into a Richard Littlejohn groupie: “It’s political correctness gone mad”. (Mind how you go.)

  4. Brummie says:

    Though annoying, I support their right to preach. Is seems that they were not advocating violence. The limit should be on the decibel level, as with buskers, not the content. Noise from street performers, of any kind, should be checked with sound monitoring devices and set to acceptable levels.

  5. Angela_K says:

    It is a shame these loonies were prosecuted as it can be good fun baiting them. More of a worry is that this is an attack on free speech; what would happen if I set up near these guys with a loud-hailer and declared that “religious belief is a mental illness” or “Jesus was Gay”, “Mo a pedo” etc.

  6. The one on the left looks like Himmler. The one on the right looks like a wigless Pantomime Dame. I think I may have met them on Hampstead Heath a few years ago whilst searching for badgers one moonless night at three in the morning. They were encased in leather. I, a bottle of pink gin in each paw, wore a puce cat suit. Those faces, once seen–even in the depths of a dark winter’s night, surrounded by rustling bushes, snapping twigs and the hooting of a solitary owl–could never be forgotten. Or perhaps it was all but a dream….

  7. gedediah says:

    Totally agree. These hate mongers turn off way more people than they convince. Let them carry on the good work.

  8. ray metcalfe says:

    The best way to deal with idiots like that I think is a good belly laugh. Laughter is contagious start a few laughing and who knows what would happen some might see the tripe they utter for what it is.

  9. Terry says:

    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.

    Now that sentence is a truly magnificent example a sentence the real meaning of which is exactly the opposite of how most people will understand it. It says ‘we are tolerant and inclusive’. It actually means ‘we will use the full weight of our power to censor and silence anyone we want’.
    Now I am a committed atheist and rail against the pious, the pious of all religions, at every opportunity. And I will exert that right, the right of free speech, the cornerstone of secular democracy, to its fullest extent. For example, I chose to say that the Roman Catholic Church is a global criminal organisation … name the crime and the RCC is guilty of it. Now not only is that sentence my personal view it has the merit of being true. And I claim the right to express that sentiment in public and to have the police to protect me when I am doing it.

  10. AgentCormac says:

    This is how you deal with them.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwLaDzKFiBY

  11. Which church do they belong to? The Church of the Latter Day Dildo by the look of ’em. When I was on the game in my youth I met this type quite often. I know their little ways and peccadillos very well. I was about to add something else…..but its rather delicate nature prevents me from doing so.

  12. AgentCormac says:

    @MFR

    FFS just stop with all the self-indulgent bollocks. It isn’t amusing or entertaining, it is tedious in the extreme. Worse still it serves to trivialise what are important issues and devalues the excellent work that is done here by the Editor. Try contributing something intelligent for once.

  13. Angela_K says:

    @MFR. Your er, er, “talent” is better suited to trolling the Daily Mail and Daily Express; see if you can get yourself banned as many times as me.

  14. Cali Ron says:

    I’ve dubbed MFR the Subtle Troll for it’s (probably a man masquerading as a woman) somewhat unique style of subtly provoking and and indirectly insulting the editor and regulars on this site, trying to derail the thread with vulgar references and off topic comments. Ex: After calling her out as a provocateur in an Opinion thread she responded with “I will turn the other cheek”-a religious quote knowing the irony and hoping to provoke. On political sites I comment on I eviscerate trolls mercilessly, but on this site I respect the decorum and intellectual level of discourse and try to refrain myself from going all Chuck Norris on trolls.

  15. Trevor Blake says:

    Freethought doesn’t mean correct-thought or pleasant-thought. It means as much what these men think as what I think. The opposite of freethought is pulling the plug when they were speaking and fining them afterwards.

    Glad to see (steady!) support for free speech at The Freethinker.

  16. AgentCormac says:

    @Trevor Blake

    What is your view on those who speak up and challenge (see link below) or try to drown out (as per the clip I linked to above) those who are publicly insulting others (most notably and usually homosexuals)? I am not asking this to be in any way provocative, I’m just interested to know how far you personally think free speech should be tolerated, especially if it tips over into hate speech.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQoTBLTieAk

  17. barriejohn says:

    I gave up reading MFR’s asinine comments ages ago, but it’s a pity to see *her* still derailing the debate so frequently.

    AgentCormac: That’s a very good question, and one that I really wrestle with, as my gut instinct is “free speech at all costs”!

  18. Paul says:

    The babble is full of hateful anti this anti that language and demands capital punishments for homosexuality and non-gawd gawds etc – so I’m a bit bemused at the criminality of this.

  19. AgentCormac says:

    @barriejohn

    One of my favourite sights in life is that of a street preacher giving it their all while being totally ignored by everybody. It is the perfect riposte. However, ignoring them can be difficult when they are making a public nuisance of themselves by blasting out their garbage on a PA system.

  20. barriejohn says:

    AgentCormac: A lot of those who stand in ones and twos without PA assistance (and without females in attendance, you’ll notice) are Exclusive Brethren. They try to hand out little printed tracts without illustration (that would be “worldly”), and only engage in this activity because the Bible “commands” them to, and they have to “obey”. They’re not concerned with making converts, as that is God’s job, and all they are called upon to do is to announce God’s message publicly. I just look at them and shake my head!

  21. remigius says:

    barriejohn. Those leaflets they hand out are often a source of endless mirth – like this one recently handed out by an evangelical group in London apparently called Britain Arse.

    https://postimg.org/image/quy9vhsmt/

  22. barriejohn says:

    It’s a pity we can’t “Like” comments here!

  23. Edwin Salter says:

    Free-thought is reliance on reason (i.e.evidence and logic) over authority. (So Trevor you are perhaps different from them.) Free speech – in the sense of saying publicly whatever you like – is almost always limited by society. We might want grounds to justify a boundary somewhere between slander and blasphemy.

  24. barriejohn says:

    Edwin Salter: All liberals and libertarians (encompassing both political wings), are acutely aware of the “I believe in freedom/equality BUT…” arguments constantly trotted out by people who are quite clearly bigots, therefore they don’t want to be the ones saying: “I believe in freedom of speech, but…”. However, we all know that, as you say, there have to be limits on freedoms of all kinds, and no government can allow the right to slander or libel with impunity, nor to incite or threaten violence, and so forth. It is, though, a difficult area for those who value personal liberty.

  25. John the Drunkard says:

    Amplification is the hidden figure here. If these trolls want to bother the public, and if some of the public is willing to stand around and receive abuse, so be it.

    But if they are using loudspeakers, and inflicting their craziness upon the unwilling, then some restriction ought to apply. As for these goons content? There is enough ‘offensive’ speech in all the Abrahamic texts to get anyone fined for reading them aloud.

    The Koran IS blasphemous to Xtianity, and the New Testament IS blasphemous to the Tanakh. So if ‘insulting’ other religions is going to be criminalized, we’re going to have some very uncomfortable preachers out there.

  26. zombiehunter says:

    I’ve never had a problem with street preachers, like has been said before you can choose to listen or ignore it and move on, in a free and open society you’re going to see hear and read things you don’t like, don’t agree with or possibly even offend you.

    what I have a problem with these days is that in Glasgow city centre recently there has been a trend of Mormons walking up and asking “have you ever met missionaries before??”

  27. StephenJP says:

    I agree with the many comments above that dissent from the magistrate’s silly and short-sighted judgement; and even though these street preachers are a couple of prize drongos, I don’t see that any of their remarks exceed the bounds of free speech. Never forget that it could be us next!

    And to those who say you should not be allowed to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, don’t forget that sometimes the theatre really is on fire…

  28. barriejohn says:

    And someone has linked to this from 1957:

    https://youtu.be/vZ22N3Y9f70

  29. AgentCormac says:

    Sorry to go OT – and in fairness this probably would have been far more relevant on the earlier thread about Ham’s creationist twaddle – but I thought this ‘evidence for life on earth 4.28 billion years ago’ article would be of interest to many here and therefore worth sharing.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39117523

  30. AgentCormac says:

    @barriejohn

    Check this one out.
    http://harlanhogan.com/bloopers.shtml

  31. Cali Ron says:

    I support all speech and defend it, even when I disagree, but reserve the right to respond in kind and call them out when they become personally offensive. There is a difference between being controversial and being offensive. You can espouse contradictory and unwanted opinions while maintaining common decency and respect for those you disagree with.

  32. barriejohn says:

    AgentCormac: We just don’t have humour of that calibre today. Since I mentioned them here a while back (and while my mother has been hospitalized), I have been enjoying George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, and other comedians of my childhood again, and who can forget the likes of Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman, and Tom Lehrer? And on this side of the pond we’ve just lost Alan Simpson! Am I getting old?

  33. Cali Ron says:

    barriejohn: ‘Am I getting old?’ No, your are aging like a fine wine or barrel aged scotch. I really enjoyed Bob Newhart’s unique style of subdued humor. Who could forget “…this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl”.

  34. “The biggest disadvantage of a penetrating intellect is not failure to reach the goal, but of going beyond it.”

    “As the stamp of great minds is to suggest much in few words, so, contrariwise, little minds have the gift of talking a great deal and saying nothing.”

    “Certain good qualities are like the senses: people entirely lacking in them can neither perceive nor comprehend them.”

    “Commonplace minds usually condemn whatever is beyond their powers.”

    (La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1665)

    The experiment has worked. My work here is now done. I shall leave you all to your “free thinking” echo chamber and return to what I do best: Prostitution.

    Farewell for evermore!

  35. Robster says:

    Both these undesirables are too old to be playing let’s pretend, they’re both over age 6.

  36. Terry says:

    We must all adhere to this well known but wholly correct adage … ‘Sticks and stones break my bones but words can’t hurt me’. Now if everyone grew up and refrained from whining when loons express their stupidity then the world would be a better place. So if I said in public that ‘gays are the spawn of the devil’then I should expect everyone to just move on and let me get on with making an arse of myself in public. Right?

  37. barriejohn says:

    Terry: That’s fine in principle, but shouting abuse in someone’s face, or otherwise harassing or even stalking them has to be prevented. I don’t think there are simple rules here at all unfortunately.

  38. Newspaniard says:

    @Miss Floribunda Rose. Sorry to see you go. Many of your posts were inciteful and entertaining. Many of the other contributors here are so stuck up their own assholes with their self importance that they treat dissent with mob violence. This is, after all, a free thinker web site not a “I agree with Agent Cormac or barriejohn (both left wing republicans) web site”. I would have thought that a person of your calling would have been a little more thick skinned. It’s nice to know that you are not. Take care.

  39. barriejohn says:

    Newspaniard: Only you have ever labelled me “Left Wing”. Says it all really!

  40. AgentCormac says:

    @ Newspaniard

    If you find that kind of pretentious twaddle entertaining you obviously don’t get out often enough. And if you think I’m somehow being a bully for speaking my mind then I can only apologise. I just got tired of every thread being used as a playground for someone else’s twee and irrelevant flights of fancy. As for being a left wing republican, I prefer the term liberal myself. Not that it really matters.

  41. JJones says:

    bj … please read, read properly, before you rush for the keyboard… I typed this ..

    So if I said in public that ‘gays are …

  42. remigius says:

    JJones. I’ve just re-read the whole thread and it was actually Terry who typed that. You seem a little confused. Maybe you should have a lie down.

  43. barriejohn says:

    JJones: Was that comment addressed to me, and if so, to what are you referring exactly?

  44. remigius says:

    Newspaniard. I noticed one or two typos in your comment. Mind if I correct them?

    @Miss Floribunda Rose. Sorry to see you go. Many of your posts were inciteful and entertaining. Many of the other contributors here are so stuck up their own assholes with their self importance that they treat dissent with mob violence. This is, after all, a free thinker web site not a “I agree with Agent Cormac or barriejohn (both left wing republicans) web site”. I would have thought that a person of your calling would have been a little more thick skinned. It’s nice to know that you are not. Take care.

    There, that makes a lot more sense. I did particularly like your inadvertent use of the word inciteful rather than insightful – suggesting that even you believe her posts were designed to agitate rather than educate.

  45. Newspaniard says:

    @remigius. Sorry about the inciteful/insightful error, O great one. The scale of nastiness grows daily on this site, which, I would remind you, is for ALL freethinkers, not only to those to the left of centre.

  46. John says:

    I am not sure we are receiving the whole story here.
    What was the composition of the audience?
    For example, if they stationed themselves directly outside the main mosque and made insulting remarks about the prophet Mo (as the faithful regard him) would that not be perceived as deliberately provocative behaviour?
    They need not be inciting hatred with their behaviour but could be provoking a hostile reaction with their words and actions which – in turn – could lead to riotous acts.
    I support freedom of speech and freedom of expression but I also believe that those who enjoy the right to speak and express themselves should do so responsibly and not in a way which is designed to provoke hostile reactions.

  47. barriejohn says:

    [T]hose who enjoy the right to speak and express themselves should do so responsibly and not in a way which is designed to provoke hostile reactions.

    OK, that’s nice. But under threat of arrest if they do?