TAUNTON, UK — A street preacher in the UK who was charged with making “homophobic” remarks and was ordered to pay a fine for his speech, including to a man to whom he quoted Scripture from the book of Leviticus, has been vindicated of his conviction of causing “emotional harm.”
As previously reported, Mike Overd, a street preacher for five years, was accused of speaking against homosexuality and Islam last June and July on two separate occasions. He was leveled with two charges of using threatening and abusive words and a charge of causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress under the Public Order Act.
In March, Judge Shamim Qureshi, a Muslim who also serves as the presiding judge at the Sharia law-based Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, declared Overd guilty of violating the Public Order Act for his remarks to a homosexual man who stopped to talk to him about sexuality.
Qureshi specifically expressed concern that Overd quoted from Leviticus 12:13, which reads, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” He said that the preacher should have selected another verse that was less offensive.
“If Leviticus 20:13 is not considered threatening and abusive words that will be a licence to all and sundry from the drunkard to the violent extremist of any faith to use it as a code word without being convicted of homophobic crime,” Qureshi said in his ruling.
“I cannot interpret the law in the way Mr. Overd and his legal team ask,” he continued. “Such a decision would not be the upholding of equal human rights and would be seized upon by fundamentalists and extremists to be the first step to public disorder.”
But Overd said that he did not quote the second half of the Scripture in witnessing to the man, and doesn’t believe he should be told what he can and can’t cite from the Bible.
“I did not quote the full text of Leviticus 20 or make reference to the death penalty, but the judge is telling me that I should use other parts of the Bible,” he stated. “This is not free speech but censorship. The judge is redacting the Bible.”
Overd was fined 1,400 British pounds, the equivalent of approximately $2,090 dollars, part of which was to go to the man to whom he had quoted the Scripture. The street preacher initially resisted the fine, but was then threatened with jail time if he did not comply.
Attorneys for Overd appealed, and on Thursday, Circuit Judge David Ticehurst overturned the conviction due to insufficient evidence from the prosecution.
“Today the court was faced with the farcical situation of a witness telling the judge that he couldn’t even remember what I had said, but simply asserting that it was ‘homophobic’ – as though the mere assertion that something is ‘homophobic’ is enough to curtail free speech,” Overd said in a statement.
“The highly politicized dogma of ‘phobias’ now too often results in trumped up charges and legal action,” he continued. “There is a chilling effect.”
Overd says that he is motivated by love, not hate to preach the gospel on the streets, but that the truth about sin must still be outlined in sharing the full counsel of God.
“My motivation in all my preaching is to share God’s message of love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. To do that I have to talk about the reality of life, including our sinfulness,” he said.