With prosecutors telling courtrooms the Authorised Version has no place in modern society, ET asks, how much further will censorship of Christians now go in the UK? Are we returning to a seventeenth century-type oppression of biblical Christianity?
Protections for freedom of expression already enshrined in law are at risk of unravelling, just weeks after the death of the man who brought them in. Back in 2008, former Home Secretary (Lord) David Waddington successfully persuaded the House of Lords to include a clause in the Criminal Justice Act that became known as the Waddington amendment.
This amendment sought to protect freedom of expression on sexual orientation. It said: ‘In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices, or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices, is not to be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred’.
Just days after Lord Waddington died, a member of the Crown Prosecution Service told a magistrates’ court in Bristol that certain verses from the King James Bible were unacceptable in a modern society.
He was speaking in court at the trial of Mike Overd and Michael Stockford, two street preachers arrested after responding to leading questions from Muslims about homosexuality and Muslims. The prosecutor told the court that preaching from the AV ‘must be considered to be abusive, and is a criminal matter’.
After the conviction, the preachers’ solicitor Michael Phillips commented, ‘This prosecution is nothing more than a modern-day heresy trial, dressed up under the public order act’.
The comparison between the use (or abuse) of the Public Order Act and protections enshrined in law by Lord Waddington were highlighted in a pertinent editorial from Barnabas Fund. This commented: ‘Lord Waddington prophetically saw, if it became a criminal offence to criticise a particular set of beliefs — in this instance, the claims advanced by gay lobby groups — then criticism of other beliefs which their adherents also claimed were indisputable facts could be criminalised too.
‘As events have shown, his warnings were disturbingly prophetic. Two Christian street preachers were convicted by Bristol magistrates of religiously aggravated harassment, when they quoted from the Bible after being asked provocative questions about Islam and the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics by hecklers’.
Importantly, the editorial added: ‘What the men were preaching was biblical Christianity. The CPS lawyer was therefore in effect claiming it is no longer legal to speak publicly about some aspects of this’.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said the case raised questions about freedom of speech and religion in the UK. She said: ‘The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today.
‘So it 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 offence. The ruling, in effect, states that the Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public’.
Both Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell have a right to a re-trial in the crown court. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Robert Stacey, chairman of Bristol magistrates, who handed down fines of £2,016 on each man, is a Freemason, who holds office in the Provincial Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.