A criminal case against a Christian street preacher in the United Kingdom who was arrested in 2020 for alleged hate speech has been tossed out.
Prosecution for the U.K. government argued that John Dunn, a 55-year-old British army special forces veteran who has preached openly for 15 years in the southwestern English town of Swindon, was guilty of hate speech when he offended members of the public by denouncing homosexuality, according to the London-based Christian Legal Centre.
Dunn was slated for another court hearing on Nov. 13, which could have seen him slapped with a criminal record, but the case was dismissed after the women who complained about him declined to further engage with the case.
During the Nov. 1, 2020, incident that led to his arrest, Dunn was preaching in the town center of Swindon when two women walked by him holding hands, and he said, “I hope you are sisters.”
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When the women told him they were in a same-sex marriage, Dunn replied, “It says in the Bible that homosexuals ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God,’” quoting the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians. The women subsequently reported him to the police.
When Dunn volunteered to go to the local police station for an interview about the incident, he was reportedly told that if he attempted to leave the station, he would be arrested under a public order law that forbids threatening and abusive words or behavior within the hearing or sight of someone who is “likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
Dunn’s legal counsel, which was retained by the Christian Legal Centre, argued that he said what he did to the women out of spiritual concern for them.
They further argued that Dunn’s interaction with law enforcement breached his human rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression.
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Strong opinions must be protected “even if these cross the sensibilities of the majority of the population,” they argued, and that “simply conveying biblical truth” cannot reach the threshold of illegal hate speech.
Lawyers representing the government reportedly maintained that the charges against Dunn were “proportionate” to his words, and they used Old Testament teachings about the death penalty to argue that “there are references in the Bible which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public.”
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Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre that represented Dunn, praised the legal outcome in a statement provided to WHD News Digital, but she said the attitude of the government prosecution toward the Bible in the case was “deeply concerning.”
“The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and have provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today,” said Williams. “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 offense.”
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“The view from the [government] was that the Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public,” she wrote. “‘Offense’ is an entirely subjective concept and is easily manipulated to shut down viewpoints that people simply don’t like. Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted. In today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”
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Arrests of street preachers in the U.K. for hate crimes, breaking the peace or some similar offense have repeatedly made international headlines in recent years.
Most recently, the Metropolitan Police in London apologized in October and paid out £10,000 in damages to Hatun Tash, a female Christian evangelist who challenged her multiple 2020 arrests.
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Tash, who is from a group called Defend Christ Critique Islam (DCCI), often spoke at the Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park and sometimes stoked backlash for publicly debating Islam and the Koran, including one incident in which she was reportedly stabbed in the face by Islamic extremists.