LONDON (Christian Examiner) – American evangelicals concerned about religious liberty in a country that has embraced gay marriage would do well to look to their brothers and sisters "across the pond," where Christians in the United Kingdom have been fined and even jailed for merely quoting the Bible and calling homosexuality a sin.
It may sound like hyperbole but it's not, and story after story out of London in recent years demonstrates that Christians there are facing what only can be called persecution.
The U.K. has run at least a decade ahead of America on issues pertaining to homosexuality, granting same-sex couples marriage benefits 10 years ago through "domestic partnerships," and then legalizing same-sex marriage in 2013.
Those laws, combined with a 1986 law called the Public Order Act that prohibits "threatening, abusive or insulting" language, have led to social conservatives in the country being in the legal and political crosshairs.
Christians say the 1986 law was passed to punish rioters and soccer "hooligans" and is being misapplied. But for the most part, they've lost that argument.
Paul Coleman, a U.K. representative for the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, said there has clearly been a pattern of "intolerance and discrimination against Christians" when "they attempt to hold to their sincerely held beliefs on issues such as marriage and the family."
"In the United Kingdom," he wrote in a 2014 memo, "those who have voiced support for marriage or upheld a traditional or religious view on sexual morality have been penalized in a number of different ways."
This year, street preacher Mike Overd was fined £200 ($313 U.S.) and told to pay £1, ($1,883) in costs and compensation for using "threatening" language by quoting Leviticus 20:13 when speaking to a gay man. The judge chastised him for using the word "abomination" and suggested he should have picked a different verse, The Independent newspaper and ChristianToday.com reported. He would have faced jail time if he didn't pay the fines. "The judge is effectively censoring the Bible and saying that certain verses aren't fit for public consumption," said Libby Towell, spokesperson for the Christian Legal Centre. Source: The Independent, ChristianToday.com.
In 2010, Baptist preacher Dale McAlpine was arrested and placed in a cell for seven hours after a gay police official overheard him "reciting a number of 'sins' referred to in the Bible, including blasphemy, drunkenness and same sex relationships," The Telegraph newspaper reported. McAlpine, though, actually wasn't preaching about homosexuality at all, but instead was handing out leaflets about the Ten Commandments and how to get to heaven. A female passerby then asked him a question, and he began quietly quoting a passage from 1 Corinthians which references several sins. The police official saw the exchange and asked the woman what he had said. "My freedom was taken away on the hearsay of someone who disliked what I said, and I was charged under a law that doesn't apply," McAlpine said. Source: TheTelegraph.
In 2010 another Baptist preacher, Shawn Holes, was addressing a crowd when he began taking questions and someone asked him about homosexuality. "Homosexuals deserve the wrath of God -- and so do all other sinners -- and they are going to a place called Hell," he responded. He was fined £1,000 ($1,570). He told the Daily Mail, "Two men who were listening went over to a couple of police officers and they came over and told me, 'These people say you said homos are going to Hell.' I told them I would never say that, because I don't use the term homo. But I was arrested." He was charged under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act of 2003, which limits speech. Source: DailyMail.
In 2002 preacher Harry Hammond displayed a sign on the street reading, "Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord." A crowd gathered around him and a tussle ensued, and dirt and water were tossed on him, The Guardian newspaper reported. They weren't fined, but he was: a total of £695 ($1,091). He also had to hand over his sign. Source: TheGuardian.
The situation seems dire in the United Kingdom, but preachers there aren't backing down.
Said Towell, of the Christian Legal Centre and the case of Mike Overd: "[Overd] answers to God ... He's not preaching his opinion. He's preaching what God's Word says."