Four Preachers take UK Police to Court for Wrongful Arrest

In the United Kingdom, four Christian preachers -Mike Overd, Don Karns, Mike Stockwell, and AJ Clarke- popularly known as "the Bristol Four," is set to challenge the Avon and Somerset Police Departments. The reason was for their wrongful arrest in 2016 over an incident that was captured on video.

According to Christian Concern, the Bristol four tabled their lawsuit against the police for the following reasons: Assault, false imprisonment, infringement of their Human Rights, malicious prosecution, misfeasance in a Public Office, in particular articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Furthermore, the case poses questions as it relates to the right to freedom and the freedom of Christian preachers in the UK to exercise their religious beliefs. More so, it hampers on the right to freedom of assembly in public.

Overd, one of the complainants, stated that this is a '’sustained campaign harassment" against him. He is being represented by Christian Legal Centre lawyers. One of the cases of harassment was in 2014 when one police sergeant showed on local BBC television to encourage business owners to record any evidence of Mr. Overds preaching and send to the police if they feel offended by it. As a result of that statement, Mr. Overd got negative comments against his person although no video evidence ever got to the police.

On July 6, 2016, CBN News reported that the four preachers were sharing a message on the differences between Islam and Christianity at an outdoor event in Bristol, England. They were interrupted by police officers who asked them to stop speaking to the crowd.

Luckily for Overd at that time, he was wearing a body camera. He captured the moment when a police officer forcibly removed the three from the scene. There was an argument between Overd and the police who asked him to leave the gathering. However, Overd refused. Minutes later, the video captured Overd being forced to the ground by the officer.

In their conversation in the video, Overd complained of a bad back but the police officer was still adamant on putting the preacher to the ground despite his screams. Afterwards, the officer accused Overd of challenging homosexuality and Islam, and disrupting the peace in the area.

In the response of Overd, he stated that he and his friends were simply quoting what the Bible says. He has also released a statement to this effect. Below is an excerpt from the statement.

"We have faced no alternative but to bring this case as the police must be held to account for their actions for what they did in July 2016 and moreover for their actions over the past eight years. The freedom to preach the message of the gospel on the streets of the UK to the lost is one of our fundamental rights in this country. If we lose that right, we will begin to lose every other freedom.

"I believe I should be free to express views of public interest, including on culture or morality. I never use profanity, I do not attack people. However, I accept that I do criticize ideologies, other religions, and certain sexual practices. Ultimately free speech is worthless without the freedom to offend."

In reaction to the incident, Chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, Andrea Williams, said: "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.

"Robust debate is often necessary, especially when objections are being raised or abuse is hurled. We shouldn't be afraid of it. The aggressive treatment of Mr. Overd and his friends by the police and prosecution is shocking. The police should be defending the freedom of speech, not clamping down on it.

"The standing point for the police is whether people are 'offended'. This is an entirely subjective concept and cannot be used as the primary means to decide whether lawful preaching can be stopped and the preachers deprived of their freedom. 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.

"We cannot allow the gospel to be shut out of the public debate, and that is what is at stake in this crucial case," Williams concluded.

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