Minister's Blog

Another arrested street preacher

By Steve Jeffery, 26 Sep 2013

Sigh. Here we go again. On video this time.

It's helpful to analyse exactly how arrests like this come about, since the Police are making a basic procedural mistake that could easily be avoided.

What happens is this: The police receive a complaint from a member of the public about a preacher who is either "Preaching offensive things" (as in the case of Tony Miano, arrested in Wimbledon this summer) or "Preaching too loudly" (as in the case of Josh Williamson in the video above). They then go to the scene, saying, "We're only responding to a complaint."

When challenged by the police, the preacher says, "I'm not stopping, because I've not broken any laws." The police then arrest him - perhaps for a breach of the peace, perhaps for something to do with the content of what he has said - but basically because he won't do whatever is necessary to make the complaint go away. Then, when they subsequently "discover" that both the content of what the preacher has said and the volume at which he has said it are both perfectly legal, they release him without further charge.

In effect, the Police are passing the buck, disclaiming the responsibility for deciding whether any crime has actually been committed by saying "We must respond to a complaint from the public." This is why the two (louder, amplified) buskers in the above video weren't arrested - not because they were less offensive or quieter then the preacher, but simply because no one had complained.

But this approach is no longer acceptable (if indeed it ever was), since by now we've all seen and heard of enough of these incidents to know that the complaint has no legal basis. The police aren't stupid - every copper in the country has now heard of these incidents. They all know - or should know - that these preachers are doing nothing wrong, and that there is no good reason to stop them doing what they're doing. It's not acceptable to keep arresting preachers like this, because the mere fact of the arrest and the subsequent hassle and detention are themselves an unwarranted intrusion into the lives of free citizens. The process has become the punishment.

From now on, therefore, the police should simply say to the person making the complaint, "Your complaint is illegitimate, since there's no law against either the volume (unamplified speech) or the content (the Christian gospel) being proclaimed in public." If that happened, the police would immediately start to win back any respect they have lost over these incidents, and we could all move on. For there is no conceivable justification for arresting anyone for an activity which according to clearly-established legal precedents is perfectly legal.

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