A Christian street preacher has today (23 MAR) been convicted of a Public Order offence for using the 'wrong Bible verse' in a public conversation with a man who identifies as homosexual.
But the preacher was acquitted of describing Mohammed as a 'paedophile' in light of Mohammed's marriage to a six-year old girl.
In a highly unusual judgment, Michael Overd, who regularly preaches on the streets of Taunton, was told by the Judge that he should not have referred to Leviticus chapter 20 but should instead have used chapter 18 of the book to make his point about homosexuality.
Sitting at Bristol Crown Court, District Judge Shamim Ahmed Qureshi found that Mr Overd could have pointed to Leviticus 18:22 which describes homosexual practice as an 'abomination' but that reference to Leviticus 20:13 was inappropriate because the chapter refers to the death penalty.
Mr Overd points out that in his use of Leviticus 20 he never referred to the death penalty. "I am being punished for words that never passed my lips," he comments.
He goes on to express his shock that a Judge should adopt the role of Biblical censor, effectively dictating which parts of the Bible are fit for public preaching.
"I am amazed that the Judge sees it as his role to dictate which parts of the Bible can and can't be preached. 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. This is not free speech but censorship. The Judge is redacting the Bible.
"I have been ordered to pay compensation for causing 'emotional pain' to someone who approached me aggressively demanding to debate the issue. There was no harm, injury or theft, just a simple disagreement over theology which I have now been fined for.
“My motivation for preaching the gospel is my love for Jesus Christ and my deep concern for people who do not know His great love and are heading towards an eternity separated from God."
'Unable to recall exactly what was said'
In another highly unusual aspect of the case, a Somerset newspaper reported the Police accusing Mr Overd of "being hostile" to people and encouraged members of the public to record Mr Overd if they felt that he was making “offensive remarks”.
However, a number of the witnesses interviewed in connection with Mr Overd's case said they cannot remember what was said or when it was said. One of the eyewitnesses, Nigel Marley, said in a statement that he was “unable to recall exactly what phrases he was using, but it was clear to me that it was homophobic.”
Fine, compensation and costs
Judge Qureshi imposed a fine of £200 on Mr Overd and told him to pay a total of £1,200 in costs and compensation.
Mr Overd is supported by the Christian Legal Centre and was represented in Court by Paul Diamond and Michael Phillips.
'Defending the freedom to preach'
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented,
“Mike is clear that he is motivated by love, not hate. Indeed, this is in line with the message of the Bible.
“It’s clear from the evidence that he has consistently dealt with people’s objections in a balanced and reasonable way. He has explained his beliefs. He hasn’t been aggressive or targeted anybody in particular. The evidence bears all this out.
“Mike’s boldness and his witness to Jesus is remarkably similar to that of the apostles in the early years of the church.
“They were also hauled before the courts to defend themselves for preaching a message of love and truth. They also faced trumped up accusations in an attempt to portray them as ‘disruptive’.
“Now, as then, the disruptive ones appear to be the people who bring accusations, on the flimsiest of evidence, against a man who loves Jesus and loves people. This is why Mike gets up and preaches in Taunton town centre.
“There will always be those who disagree with the Bible’s teaching. But we should defend to the hilt the freedom to proclaim it in a loving way, which is what Mike Overd always seeks to do.”