Three Christian street evangelists are standing trial today at the Bristol Magistrates’ Court in the U.K., facing public order offenses for preaching the “uniqueness of Jesus Christ” and challenging homosexuality and the teachings of Islam.
Christian Concern has reported that Michael Overd, Adrian Clark and Michael Stockwell were accused by police of “challenging Islam” and “challenging homosexuality” for their preaching at a Bristol shopping area in July 2016.
The evangelists reportedly engaged with the crowd and pointed out the differences between Islam and Christianity, using references from the Bible and the Quran to speak of “God’s love, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.”
Overd was also charged in 2014 for “causing offense” when he publicly denounced the Islamic prophet Muhammad for marrying a 9-year-old girl, and was subsequently interrupted by a police officer and forcefully removed from the area.
The crowd was stirred up after the preachers started saying that “Allah does not exist” and “all Muslims will burn in Hell,” a witness told The Bristol Post.
The witness also claimed that the evangelists called people “disgusting” for being gay, divorced or living in “sin.”
The officer at the scene accused Overd and his friends of purposefully trying to agitate the crowd, arguing that the preacher has “gone over the top” and “he’s just wound up people.”
The evangelists were taken to Patchway Custody Center in Bristol and held for several hours, after which they were charged under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Public Order Act 1986.
The three men are arguing that their freedom of speech and freedom of religion are being violated, and insisted that all they were doing was sharing the teachings of the Bible and responding to questions from the crowd.
“Mr Overd and his friends are motivated by love. They want to share the Good News of Jesus with people who might not otherwise hear it. Sometimes that means addressing the false claims of other religions or ideologies,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Center.
“Robust debate is sometimes necessary, especially when objections are being raised or abuse hurled. We shouldn’t be afraid of it,” Williams added.
“The aggressive treatment of Overd and his friends by the police and prosecution is shocking. The police should be defending freedom of speech, not clamping down on it.”
Williams further argued that being “offensive” is a subjective accusation, as it goes down to people’s individual viewpoints.
“This was not just an attack on freedom of speech but an abuse of power. We will not only be seeking the acquittal of these Christian men but seeking an apology from the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police, compensation and assurances that officers are better trained to protect freedom of expression,” she continued.
She added, “We cannot allow the Gospel to be shut out of public debate. Please pray for a successful outcome to this important case”.