BRISTOL, UK — The U.K. prosecutor who presented the government’s case last week against two preachers who were found guilty today of “intentionally alarming” the public with their open-air preaching had argued before the court that the men’s speech declaring Jesus as the only way “cannot be a truth.”
“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,” prosecutor Ian Jackson declared, according to a press release issued on Tuesday by the Christian Legal Centre.
He contended that Michael Stockwell and Michael Overd had crossed the line by stating that those not following Christ are on the broad path to destruction.
“[Stockwell preached that] people were on their way to Hell because of their failure to adopt the worldview of Christianity,” Jackson told the court.
“If you are trying to come through Catholicism, through Jehovah Witness, through Mormonism, the Bible says you’re a thief and a liar, and a thief comes to steal and destroy. But Christ came that we may have life,” Stockwell had explained during the outreach.
Jackson said that it was also wrong for the preachers to include homosexuals in a list of sinners that included drunkards and thieves, contending that doing so “must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”
But attorney Michael Phillips of the Christian Legal Centre noted to the court that the men were simply citing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived: Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
The Daily Mail reports that 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.”
As previously reported, Overd and Stockwell, along with Adrian Clark and Don Karns, had been taking turns open air preaching outside of the Bristol shopping center on July 6, as well as engaging passersby in conversation and/or holding gospel signs.
Two of those involved in the evangelism effort, Stockwell and Karns, were American citizens visiting the country to share the gospel. The men allegedly preached on a variety of issues, and took questions from those who stopped to listen—questions that ranged from Islam, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuality and other moral and religious issues.
Police state that some became offended by the men’s preaching and/or responses to the questions, 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.
Stockwell, Karns and Clark were also arrested, but the charge against Karns was later dropped and the charge against Clark was dismissed last week at trial.
On Tuesday, Justices Robert Stacey, Gerry McDermot and Josephine Ramsden declared Overd and Stockwell guilty of violating the Crime and Disorder Act, which prohibits speech or behavior causing “intentional harassment, alarm or distress” that is “racially or religiously aggravated.” They were fined nearly $2,500 each.
“Men should be able to proclaim the truth and have diverse differences in the public forum, agreeing to disagree without harm or repercussions. Truth today is the new hate,” Stockwell said in a statement following his guilty verdict.
“[I]t 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 offense,” also remarked Andrea Williams, who leads the Christian Legal Centre. “Today’s ruling, in effect, states that Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public. This is a very serious state of affairs and the men will be considering next steps to challenge this decision.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorporated an image of a U.K. solicitor of the same name, who was found not to be involved in the matter. The photo was amended shortly after posting.