Peer fears evangelism could be hate crime

13 December 2017

Lord Pearson of Rannoch has said that that he fears that telling other people about Christianity could soon become a hate crime.

In an interview with Premier Radio, Lord Pearson said that free speech is being eroded by hate crime legislation.

Last week, in a debate on freedom of speech and the definition of hate crime, Lord Pearson asked the government:

“My Lords, will the Government confirm that the latest definition from the CPS of a hate crime is one which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by prejudice based on a person’s religion? Will the Government therefore confirm unequivocally that a Christian who says that Jesus is the only Son of the one true God cannot be arrested for hate crime or any other offence, however much it may offend a Muslim or anyone of any other religion?”

Responding on behalf of the government, Baroness Vere said “My Lords, I am not going to comment on that last question from the noble Lord.” Lord Pearson told Premier Radio that her refusal to comment was “unique” and that he’s never witnessed a question being refused an answer.

Hate crime

The problem is that what constitutes a ‘hate crime’ is very poorly defined.

The CPS definition of hate crime is very dependent on perception:

“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.”

It also says that a hate crime “can include verbal abuse.”

Preachers arrested

It is shocking that the government would not confirm that preaching the gospel would not constitute a hate crime in law.

Christian Concern has helped several street preachers who have been arrested for preaching the gospel. Most recently Daniel Courney was charged with “using threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.” His conviction was overturned last week.

Mike Overd and Michael Stockwell also had convictions overturned earlier this year after they were convicted of a similar offence in a magistrates court. The prosecutor had argued that publicly quoting parts of the King James Bible in modern Britain should “be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter”.

Free speech on the retreat

Last week, Lord Pearson also initiated a debate on the tenets of Islam in the House of Lords, in which he said that whilst criticism of Christianity is entirely permitted in society, criticism of Islam is not tolerated.

He said to Premier Radio that “I’m afraid at the moment that free speech is on the retreat in this country, particularly from our wish to appease Islam.”

The evidence of street preachers being arrested would suggest that Lord Pearson is correct to fear the erosion of free speech in this country.

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