WEST SUSSEX — A judge in the U.K. has exonerated a merchant who was prohibited from participating in a street market after a complaint was lodged over a gospel tract that was deemed “homophobic.”
Steve Loha had been selling watches and mobile phone cases at the Chichester Market for 15 years, and decided to sometimes also give tracts to customers as a way to share his faith in Christ. Loha, a former convict, came to Christ while in prison and didn’t want to keep the good news of the gospel to himself.
“[A] lot of people were taking the literature. They were listening to the good news. And because we were Christians, we were smiling. We had no worries. And I think that was a difference that people actually saw …. ‘Who is this guy? Why is he always happy?'” he explained in a video recorded by Christian Concern.
“People were coming for prayers and it was like a ministry growing, and growing and growing,” Loha recalled.
He said that the public was aware of his evangelism and he felt that he was targeted because of that.
In May 2017, a member of Chichester District Council took offense at one of Loha’s tracts—a Chick tract about homosexuality, which had been offered to him. Council Licensing Manager Laurence Foord soon called Chichester Market Manager Brian Nunan to express the council’s “displeasure,” and following an investigation, Nunan decided to terminate Loha’s license, effective immediately.
When Loha sought to offer an apology for any offense, Nunan told Loha that he could not change the decision, remarking that “the literature was extremely homophobic and unacceptable. In today’s world religious oppression, fanaticism and persecution is rife. Anything that supports or encourages them must be eradicated.”
Loha consequently took the matter to the Chichester County Court with the aid of the Christian Legal Centre. On Friday, Deputy District Judge Mark Harvey rejected the argument of Nunan’s attorney, who asserted that Loha might have violated the Equality Act and committed a crime.
According to the Christian Legal Center, Harvey said that in UK criminal law, “hostility based on sexual orientation” is “an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness” of a crime, but is not “not an offense in its own right.” In other words, so-called homophobia is not a crime in and of itself.
“If the homophobic element is parasitic on a criminal offense, what is that offense?” he asked.
“Sadly, having been led by Jesus from my life of crime into a new life as an honest Christian small entrepreneur, I have now been treated like a criminal again—simply for being His follower and bearing witness to my faith,” Loha lamented in a statement.
The Christian Legal Center applauded Harvey’s ruling, but also noted that attorneys for the Chichester Market are applying for permission to appeal.
“This decision makes a welcome change from a worrying trend we have seen in many recent judgments which sought to justify removal of Christians from their jobs and livelihoods for purely ideological reasons. In this case, however, the judge had the courage to uphold the rule of law,” remarked Chief Executive Andrea Williams.
“Steve gave out tracts to make known the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ for all people,” she outlined. “Christians share this good news message in different ways, but agree that all people, everywhere, need to believe in Jesus to find eternal life.”
“Steve Loha stands for some of the most precious things in humanity, honest hard-working enterprise, courageous evangelism, and genuine repentance of sin. He deserved justice, and we are very privileged to have served him in securing its triumph.”