Two Christian street preachers were fined what amounts to thousands of U.S. dollars for allegedly engaging in an “abusive” and “criminal” activity by quoting verses from the King James (KJV) Bible – an argument presented by a public prosecutor in the United Kingdom.
Last summer, Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell were arrested while they were preaching in the U.K.’s Bristol city center, and they were later charged with a Public Order Offense for quoting and speaking about the Bible to pedestrians.
Ever since July of last year, the two men have been caught in in a legal battle over what they describe as merely preaching the Gospel and answering questions posed by a crowd about the difference between Islam and Christianity, according to The Christian Institute.
Baseless argument, baseless ruling…
Michael Phillips, the attorney representing Overd and Stockwell, proclaimed before the court that the prosecutor’s allegations are completely out-of-line.
“[The prosecution was a] modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the Public Order Act,” Phillips told the Bristol Magistrates Court.
In defense of the Christian men, their counsel argued that the two were legally exercising their democratic right to preach and quote from the KJV Bible in a public venue – a matter of free speech.
Reciting the Bible criminal behavior?
However, Ian Jackson, the public prosecutor in the case, claimed that the concepts and material uttered from Scripture that was translated into the King James Version of the Bible more than 400 years ago should not be allowed to be publicly spoken in contemporary time in the U.K.
“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,” Jackson contended before the court.
At a later time, the prosecutor insisted that the Word of God recorded in the Bible is false teaching.
“To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth,” Jackson expressed in a recorded statement. “To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”
Setting the law straight
Christian Institute Director Colin Hart addressed Jackson’s response, insisting that his argument is not based in British law.
“We must not forget that strong protections for free speech still remain in our country,” Hart asserted. “There has been no change in the law in this area since 2014, when the word ‘insulting’ was removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.”
He went on to contend that the unfavorable ruling against the Christian men in the lower court was a grave mistake – one that should rectified through their appeal to a judge of greater stature.
“It would be completely wrong for Christians to conclude that reading the KJV in public has suddenly become a criminal offence,” the Christian legal expert maintained. “Of course, the law is not always correctly applied, and the verdict in this case can be fully examined by a higher court.”
Christian Concern Chief Executive Andrea Williams, whose organization is supporting the street preachers in the case, was amazed at the reckless and flagrant argument presented by the prosecuting attorney.
“The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today,” Williams proclaimed. “So, it is extraordinary that the prosecution – speaking on behalf of the state – could say that the Bible contains abusive words which, when spoken in public, constitute a criminal offence. In today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree”.
Both men are appealing the decision that ordered each to pay fines and court costs amounting to £2,016 (British pounds) – nearly $2,500 (U.S.) each. It is reported that a lawsuit was dismissed against a third man for sharing the Gospel after the court found that there was no case to answer.