A criminal prosecution against a street preacher arrested for an alleged ‘hate crime’ has been dropped in which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) argued that parts of the Bible are ‘abusive’ and ‘no longer appropriate in modern society.’
John Dunn, 55, a cancer survivor from Swindon who has served in the British Army’s Special Forces, was interviewed under caution and subsequently summonsed by the police for alleged ‘homophobia’ after preaching on Swindon High Street in November 2020.
Mr Dunn, who regularly preaches despite having lost his voice box following throat cancer, is a Bible-believing Christian who preaches in Swindon town centre. He considers preaching on the streets and speaking God’s truth to be an essential part of his Christian calling, which he has been doing for 15 years.
As part of his message he often refers to Genesis 1, being made in God’s image, male and female and marriage between one man and one woman being God’s purpose and pattern for the good of society.
On 1st November 2020, Mr Dunn was preaching when two women walked past holding hands. Mr Dunn said: “I hope you are sisters”. They replied that they were in a same-sex marriage.
In line with biblical beliefs on human sexuality, Mr Dunn said out of genuine concern for the women that: “It says in the Bible that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God”, which is a verse from 1 Corinthians 6.
Mr Dunn insists his intention and motivation was to declare God’s truth out of love and compassion for the people passing by and listening.
However, the two women took ‘offence’ and reported Mr Dunn to the police, describing his comments as ‘biblical speak.’ They also alleged that Mr Dunn had shouted at them, despite his voice box, that “they will burn in hell”, which he categorically denies saying.
Mr Dunn subsequently voluntarily attended a police station for interview. At the station he was told if he tried to leave he would be arrested and was then summonsed for an offence under section 5 Public Order Act.
The Crown alleged that he was guilty under of hate speech because he had ‘offended’ and ‘upset’ a member of the public however the law requires that a defendant “uses threatening or abusive words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour” and this must be “within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby”.
Mr Dunn said that he had not threatened nor abused the complainants nor did he do anything disorderly.
Lawyers instructed by the Christian Legal Centre argued in Mr Dunn’s defence that the interview and subsequent prosecution 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.
They said that very strong opinions must be protected, ‘even if these cross the sensibilities of the majority of the population.’
Furthermore, they said that Mr Dunn: ‘Did not abuse the complainants. It is submitted that abuse involves the communication of an invective message to an individual. Simply conveying Biblical truth cannot so amount.’
However, lawyers representing the CPS argued that prosecution of Mr Dunn was ‘necessary’ and ‘proportionate.’
Shockingly the CPS even went as far to say 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.”
They cited references to slavery in the biblical books of Exodus and Leviticus and references to the death sentence, which had no relevance to what Mr Dunn was alleged to have said.
Expert evidence was provided in response to the CPS’s arguments by Christian theologian, Dr Martin Parsons.
Analysing the history of the Bible being read on the streets of the UK since the early 16th century, Dr Parsons said that the: ‘Public reading of the Bible was actually the first aspects of freedom of religion to be developed in England after the Reformation’.
Dr Parsons cited how the authorised version, known as the King James Bible, has played a specific role in the coronation service. During the 1953 coronation service HM Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a copy of this Bible with the words:
“Our Gracious Queen: To keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”
Dr Parsons concluded that: “The Bible has had a unique status within British constitutional history. 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.”
A hearing, which could have seen Mr Dunn convicted and given a criminal record, was scheduled for the 13 November 2022 at Swindon Magistrates Court before the Magistrates. However, the case against him was thrown out after the two women reportedly ‘refused to engage with the case’ after making the initial allegations.
According to the CPS a police officer went to their home to encourage them to come to court, but no one answered or responded. Neither would the couple respond to any of the calls from the Police.
‘Jesus was the answer for me’
Following the outcome, Mr Dunn said: “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. 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.
“Most people of Swindon I believe appreciate my preaching, and my preaching has led to the conversion of notorious drug dealer and petty criminal Shaun O’Sullivan. If I had not been out on the streets, he would never have heard the Gospel. We now regularly preach together.
“When I preach, I only ever say what is in the Bible. When they told me they were in a same-sex marriage, I was concerned for them. I had to communicate the consequences of their actions based on what the Bible says. I wanted to warn them, not out of condemnation, but out of love. I wanted to them to know that there is forgiveness through the love of Jesus.
“Nine times out of ten when I preach or engage with people on the streets, people ask me to pray for them.
“I am relieved and grateful that the case has been dropped and I plan to continue to preach on the streets of Swindon.”
‘Bible foundation of society’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “John Dunn loves Jesus and cares passionately about sharing the Biblical truth that has transformed his life. Even without a voice box he still goes out telling people about Christ. And there are people who have found faith, whose lives have been changed and turned around because of John’s preaching.
“The approach of the CPS to this case, and the Bible in general, however, is deeply concerning. The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and has provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today. 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 offence.
“The view from the CPS was that the Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public.
“‘Offence’ 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.”
Find out more about John Dunn