The Death of Freedom, UK Edition
The erosion of freedom in Europe continues apace. This week, the news is from once-Great Britain, where it is now illegal to preach the gospel if someone objects strongly enough. From Anglican Ink:
Two street preachers have today been convicted of a public order offence, after a public prosecutor claimed that publicly quoting parts of the King James Bible in modern Britain should “be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter”.
Prosecutor Ian Jackson also told the court that “although the words preached are included in a version of the Bible in 1611, this does not mean that they are incapable of amounting to a public order offence in 2016.”
Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell were found guilty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 at Bristol Magistrates’ Court.
Having gotten this far in the article, I thought sure it must be about homosexuality. But no:
During the four-day trial, Mr Jackson also argued: “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.”
So now, Her Majesty’s Government is apparently the arbiter of religious truth claims and epistemological philosophy. The fact that this is standard issue Christian teaching, and has been for 2000 years, is of no consequence. The fact that HMG can’t disprove this–the prosecutor’s statement is itself a truth claim that cannot be verified, thus wrapping him in a hopeless state of self-contradiction–is also of no consequence. All of this is because someone was offended by the claim that Jesus is God, and the only way to the Father. Care to guess who?
Mr Overd, Mr Stockwell and two friends were preaching in Bristol’s Broadmead Shopping Centre, in July last year.
The group that gathered was sometimes loud and aggressive, with some swearing and hurling abuse.
The preachers took it in turns to address the crowd, and to answer questions and objections.
There was debate on several points, especially over the differences between Islam and Christian belief. Several hecklers appeared to be supportive of Islam.
At one point, Mr Stockwell had a debate with a Muslim man in which both individuals expressed their opposition to the other’s religious beliefs.
Yes, that’s right. It is now the case that in the land of Thomas More and John Wesley, the claim that Jesus is God, being offensive to Muslims–who make the opposite, unprovable truth claim–must not be uttered in public in the presence of Muslims. The latter are, apparently, allowed to shout to the rooftops that Jesus is not God, because that is not offensive to anyone who counts.
Video evidence submitted to the court, shows Mr Overd being interrupted and forcibly removed from the scene by a police officer.
But the court found Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell guilty under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, for using “threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, thereby, and the offence was religiously aggravated.”
In their ruling, the magistrates said that “we feel it has been proved that both defendants’ behaviour went beyond preaching the virtues of their religion.”
And now judges get to decide what is involved, and what precisely can be said, by those who are “preaching the virtues of their religion.” They’ve also enshrined the heckler’s veto as the best tool to shut down unwelcome speech.
I understand that Britain doesn’t have a written constitution, and that the standards for freedom of speech and religion in Europe are not identical to those of the United States. But this seems so thoroughly contrary to any recognizable concept of free speech and religion that one has to wonder if freedom is not really dying in the part of the world that is its cradle.
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