Police silence evangelists in ‘Muslim area’
Two church workers from a church in Birmingham are seeking an apology from West Midlands police after they were told by a police officer – ‘you can’t preach here, this is a Muslim area’. The Christian Institute is backing claims that their religious liberties have been infringed.
The incident happened to Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham, pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship Church in Saltley, as they were handing out Christian tracts and talking to four Muslim youths on the corner of Ellesmere and Alum Rock Roads in the city on 19 February this year.
Mr Cunningham and Mr Abraham claim that they were approached by police officers and told they were committing a hate crime by attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity. One officer, PCSO Naeem Naguthney (30825) said he was going to take them to the police station. PCSOs are auxiliary members of the police force, but have less training and status than a police constable.
Two other officers, PCSO Ali and PC Loi, also attended the incident. PC Loi advised the men that it might be wiser if they did not come back to Alum Rock Road again and PCSO Naguthney added, ‘You have been warned. If you come back here and get beat up, well you have been warned’.
Lawyers for the two Christians have sent a strongly worded letter to the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police. The letter gives notice that the two men are entitled to bring a claim against West Midlands Police for breach of their convention rights under articles 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
A meeting took place with Inspector Karen Hansen on 10 March at Queen’s Road Station. At the meeting Inspector Hansen refused to issue a letter of apology.
However, a West Midlands Police spokeswoman said the complaint had been investigated by the force and it had been concluded that the PCSO acted with the best of intentions when he intervened to diffuse a heated argument between two groups of men. She added that following the investigation the PCSO had been offered ‘guidance around what constitutes a hate crime as well as his communication style’.
Mr Cunningham and Mr Abraham do not feel this response properly reflects the seriousness of the officers’ actions and are seeking a full and unreserved written apology, recognition that their convention rights were infringed by the conduct of the police officers, damages, and reasonable legal costs.
The Grace Bible Fellowship church website describes the congregation as ‘a free fundamental, evangelical, Bible-believing ministry’. It adds, ‘In this age of wide-spread religious apostasy, compromise, liberalism, false religions, cults [and] political correctness we stand without apology on the authority of the Bible as the infallible word of God. We are not ecumenical, Charismatic, Arminians, Calvinists or denominational’.
The church’s pastor, Joseph Abraham, was born in Cairo into a Muslim home and converted to Christianity while still in Egypt, as the result of the ministry of an American evangelist. Following a period in America Mr Abraham and his wife came to the UK with an express desire to minister the gospel to Muslims, settling in Birmingham because of the large Islamic community there.
As we go to press we have learned that The Independent Police Complaints Commission will investigate this case.