In what their lawyer calls a “modern-day heresy trial,” a British court has convicted two street preachers of a public order offense for preaching the Bible in public.
The public prosecutor in the case claimed that publicly quoting parts of the King James Bible in modern Britain should “be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”
Michael Overd of Creech St Michael, United Kingdom and Michael Stockwell of Seldon, New York were found guilty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 at Bristol Magistrates’ Court.
Prosecutor Ian Jackson also told the court, “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.”
Overd, Stockwell and two others were preaching in a Bristol shopping area last July. They took turns speaking and answering questions from the crowd that gathered.
Video showed bystanders hurling abuse at the preachers.
The men explained the difference between Islam and Christianity, using the Bible and references to the Qur’an. They spoke of God’s love, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
After about an hour, Overd was forcibly removed from the scene by a police officer.
Video from Overd’s bodycam shows him falling to the floor and crying out in pain.
The video also records the police officer saying that Overd was preaching “homophobia” and “challenging Muslims,” to which Overd responds that he and the other preachers were “just saying what the Bible says.”
Overd and Stockwell were both fined £300 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £30. They’ll also have to jointly pay court costs of £3,372.
An application for a Criminal Behavior Order against Overd will be heard in May.
Avon and Somerset Chief Inspector Andy Williams said the court “determined that these men crossed that line and used their platform to comment on other religions and sexuality using disparaging and offensive language.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which represented the men, said: “This was not just an attack on freedom of speech but an abuse of power.”
“We will not only be seeking the acquittal of these Christian men but seeking an apology from the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police, compensation and assurances that officers are better trained to protect freedom of expression,” Williams said.