BRISTOL, UK — A trial is currently underway in the United Kingdom for three preachers who were arrested last July on accusations of “causing a disturbance” and engaging in “anti-social behavior” after some listeners became offended by their speech about issues such as Islam, Buddhism, homosexuality and divorce.
Michael Overd, Adrian Clark and Michael Stockwell appeared in Bristol Magistrates’ Court on Thursday and Friday as part of a four-day trial over accusations that they violated a section of the Crime and Disorder Act, which prohibits speech or behavior causing “intentional harassment, alarm or distress” that is “racially or religiously aggravated.”
Prosecutor Ian Jackson “told the court some of the statements made by the preachers may have been in the King James Bible, translated in 1611, but that did not mean they were acceptable in 2016,” according to the Daily Mail.
Video of the incident was played in court on Friday.
As previously reported, the men had been taking turns open air preaching outside of the Bristol shopping center on July 6, while others engaged passersby in conversation and/or held gospel signs.
Two of those involved in the evangelism effort, Mike Stockwell and Don Karns, were American citizens visiting the country to share the gospel. Charges against Karns were later dropped.
The men allegedly preached on a variety of issues, including Islam, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuality, fornication, divorce—and also presented the gospel and took questions from those who stopped to listen.
Police state that some became offended, as statements reportedly included remarks such as “Allah is the greatest deceiver—that’s in the Koran,” “David Cameron is no more a Christian than my dogs” and that false religion leads men to “the gates and the very depth of Hell.”
An online video shows the moment the men were arrested.
“The purpose of mankind is to worship God and enjoy Him,” declared Overd, who was preaching at the time. “You need to obey God and obey His commands. I hated His commands once and I remember what that mind frame is—it is like banging your head against a brick wall.”
Seconds later, Overd was approached by a police officer, who ordered him to leave the area.
“Look, you are causing a disturbance now,” the officer stated. “You are not welcome.”
“Go home! Go home!” a few men nearby chanted.
The officer warned that if Overd did not stop preaching, he would be arrested.
“For God so loved the world, guys, that He gave His only begotten…” Overd declared, advising that he was not going to leave.
The officer consequently grabbed Overd by the arm while he was speaking and pulled him away. The crowd clapped and cheered enthusiastically.
“There’s a line of freedom of speech,” the officer told Overd. “[I]t’s when you’re causing a disturbance, that is, aggravating people, anti-social behavior, which you were causing.”
“How were we causing it?” Overd asked. “What did we say?”
“People were getting angry. You were challenging [homosexuality]. You were challenging Muslims,” the officer replied.
“But just saying what the Bible says,” Overd noted.
“That’s fine,” the officer said.
“Well, if it’s fine, why are you arresting me?” Overd asked.
The legal organization Christian Concern states that Overd, Clark and Stockwell will put forward in court that their case “raises crucial issues of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”
“They highlight that they simply explained the Bible’s teaching and sought to respond to questions, comments and objections raised by those in the crowd,” the group outlined in a press release. “The men say that they cannot and should not distort the plain teaching of the Bible that Jesus is God’s Son and the only way to God.”
“[E]ven though the law’s not being broken, it’s people being offended by the gospel and what it says about our sin,” Overd also stated in a video produced by Christian Concern.
Update 2:53 p.m.: As of Friday afternoon, charges have been dismissed against Clark, but Overd and Stockwell remain on trial.