TAUNTON, UK — A street preacher in the UK who is charged with making “homophobic” and “Islamophobic” remarks has just completed a two-day trial and awaits a verdict on whether or not biblical speech about the issues is considered a crime in the country.
Mike Overd, a street preacher for five years, is accused of speaking against homosexuality and Islam last June and July on two separate occasions. He is now facing 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.
A police officer had appeared on local television last fall to urge residents to record Overd’s speech as it had been reported that he was causing offense.
“I’d advise people that if they’re offended to record any incident on their mobile phone and send it to us,” Sgt. Neil Kimmins told reporters.
“It’s clear that this officer is determined to stop me preaching the gospel, which is a terrible attack on freedom of speech,” Overd said following the incident. “I find it extraordinary that the police are trying to make it illegal to preach the gospel in the streets of our country, simply because the gospel at times confronts the sinner.”
Three witnesses appeared in court this week the to claim that they had heard Overd making statements against homosexuality and/or Islam.
“If I don’t tell people about what is in the gospel and that they are sinning, then that makes me a wicked, selfish man,” Overd told the court on Thursday.
He presented two videos as evidence to what occurred as he was preaching from the Bible on the street. In one of the clips, a woman with a little boy approaches Overd and says that she wants to ask him a question. The woman then opines that God loves homosexuals.
“Just because I don’t like their sins does not mean I don’t like them,” Overd says as he continues preaching.
In another video, a police officer approaches the street preacher and tells him that he has received complaints for making “homophobic” statements.
“If I hear one homophobic word out of your mouth here today, I will arrest you,” the officer threatens.
According to the Somerset County Gazette, the officer then advised Overd that he has freedom of speech, but may not offend others.
“I do not set out to hate or make people upset,” Overd told the court. “I have no personal hatred. “I have Muslim friends. We don’t agree on certain things … [but] I have every right to bring facts to the table and compare them. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.”
Overd’s case is being heard by a Muslim, Judge Shamim Qureshi, who also serves as the presiding judge at the Sharia law-based Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. During this week’s trial, Qureshi reportedly asked the street preacher questions about the death penalty in the Old Testament, as well as whether or not he would take issue with other religions preaching about their faith in public.
“You are in dire trouble. You need to be born again,” Overd replied, according to The West Country. “You’re deluded. I care for your soul.”
A verdict is expected on March 23.
Overd, who faced a similar charge in 2012 and was found not guilty, is not the first street preacher to face charges for allegedly preaching from the Bible about homosexuality. As previously reported, English evangelist Rob Hughes was jailed in 2013 after a lesbian accused him of speaking against homosexuality, but was later released and charges were dismissed as he denied speaking on the topic that day.
American evangelist Tony Miano was also jailed earlier that same year after speaking against sexual immorality on the streets of London. Miano states that he was preaching from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 when a woman became agitated by his message and began to curse. He was placed under arrest and marched down to the police station where the was then questioned about his beliefs.
“It was surreal because I was interrogated about my faith in Jesus Christ,” Miano said. “I was asked if I believe that homosexuality is a sin. I was asked what portion of the Bible I was reading. I was asked if a homosexual was hungry and walked up to me, would I give them something to eat.”
“This idea that open air preachers only preach about homosexuality is fallacious. We talk about all forms of sin,” he further explained. “We usually take people through the Ten Commandments. We explain to people that no liar, no thief, no fornicator, no blasphemer, no homosexual, will enter into the kingdom of God.”
Like Hughes, Miano was released and went back out on the streets to preach the following day.