UK drops street preacher’s hate speech charges after saying parts of Bible ‘no longer appropriate’

John Dunn
John Dunn | Christian Concern

Prosecutors in the United Kingdom have dropped hate crime charges against a Christian street preacher arrested after preaching on the streets about the biblical definition of marriage and sexuality. 

John Dunn, a 55-year-old cancer survivor from Swindon, was arrested in November 2020 for alleged "homophobia" after preaching on Swindon High Street, according to the U.K.-based Christian Legal Centre, which is representing the street preacher.

A hearing had been scheduled for last week at Swindon Magistrates Court, but the case was thrown out after the two woman complainants reportedly "refused to engage with the case" after making the initial allegations, according to CLC. 

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Dunn, who has served in the British Army's Special Forces, often refers to Genesis 1 while preaching to state that human beings are made in God's image, male and female, and that marriage between one man and one woman is God's purpose and pattern for the good of society.

He preaches despite having lost his voice box following throat cancer.

"Before I became a Christian, I hated people, I served with the Special Forces and I made it my mission to learn how to best kill people, that was my job," Dunn said in a statement.

"But when I met Jesus Christ, he changed my heart, took away my hatred and filled it with love. Jesus was the answer for me, and I believe the world needs to know and experience this hope. That is why I do what I do, to help everyone to find the light of Jesus out of the darkness we all live in."

On Nov. 1, 2020, Dunn was preaching when two women walked past him holding hands. He told them, "I hope you are sisters," to which they replied they were in a same-sex marriage. Dunn then quoted 1 Corinthians 6, saying, "It says in the Bible that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God."

The women reported Dunn to the police, describing his comments as "biblical speak." They also alleged he shouted at them that they "will burn in Hell," which he categorically denies.

Dunn voluntarily went to the police station for an interview and was allegedly told that if he tried to leave, he would be arrested. Dunn was then charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

The Crown Prosecution Service alleged he committed hate speech because he "offended" and "upset" a member of the public. CLC contends that the law states that to be charged with a hate speech crime, Dunn would have had to use "threatening or abusive words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour."

Dunn says he didn't threaten or abuse the women, nor did he do anything disorderly. His lawyers argue that "conveying Biblical truth cannot so amount" to abusive hate speech. 

Dunn's lawyers maintain that the arrest and interrogation violated his rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights protecting freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression.

The lawyers say strong opinions must be protected "even if these cross the sensibilities of the majority of the population."

CLC reports that lawyers for the prosecution argued that prosecuting Dunn was "necessary" and "proportionate" because "[t]here are references in the Bible which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public."

The prosecution's lawyers cited references to slavery in the Exodus and Leviticus and references to capital punishment, though those references had nothing to do with what is alleged to have been said by Dunn. 

Christian theologian Martin Parsons, an independent consultant who serves as an expert witness in the U.K. court system testifying on the persecution of Christians, provided expert evidence in response to the prosecution's argument. He said the Bible has been read on the streets of England since the early 16th century.

"Public reading of the Bible was actually the first aspects of freedom of religion to be developed in England after the Reformation," Parsons said, citing how the King James Bible played a specific role in coronation services.

During the 1953 coronation service, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a copy of this Bible.

"The Bible has had a unique status within British constitutional history," Parsons said. "The suggestion by the crown that there are parts of the Bible 'which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public,' is one that if accepted, would have significant constitutional implications."

In a similar case in April, Uxbridge Magistrates' Court acquitted Pastor John Sherwood of the Penn Free Methodist Church in north London. He was arrested for purportedly causing "alarm and distress" by preaching about the biblical definition of marriage, which police said was "hate speech."

Last year, a court in Liverpool County awarded $4,500 plus legal costs to street preacher David McConnell, who West Yorkshire Police arrested in December 2019 for "a hate-related public order offense" and "for preaching on gay rights and abortion." McConnell was allegedly preaching when a passerby began to heckle him and ask him questions about sexuality and abortion, a topic he didn't bring up himself. He was arrested and taken to Huddersfield police station, where he was held for six hours before his release. 

In July 2019, British authorities agreed to pay a 64-year-old Nigerian street preacher, Oluwole Ilesanmi, around $3,000 after wrongfully arresting him and confiscating his Bible for engaging in "hate speech" by preaching outside Southgate Tube station in London.

Earlier this month, the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, a nongovernmental organization based in Austria, released its 2021 Annual Report, which found more than 500 anti-Christian hate crimes occurred in Europe in 2021.

At 124, France was home to the highest number of anti-Christian hate crimes last year. Germany had the second-highest number of such incidents, with 112 reported hate crimes against Christians, followed by Italy (92), Poland (60), the United Kingdom (40), Spain (30), Austria (15), Belgium (10), Ireland (7) and Switzerland (7).

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