UK: some parts of the Bible may be cited, others not

A rather scurrilous judgment has been issued by a judge in Taunton, Somerset (UK), where a street Christian preacher has been condemned a fine of £200 and a total of £1,200 in costs and compensation for expressing critical views about sodomy.

District judge Shamim Ahmed Qureshi, whose name seems to indicate that his cultural background is Muslim, gave street preacher Mike Overd the advice that, when quoting from the Bible, he should have used Leviticus 18:22 rather than Leviticus 20:13 to make his point about homosexual practice.

While Lev 18:22 (English Standard Version) says that “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”, Lev 20:13 says: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

The Judge said that Leviticus 20:13 was inappropriate because it mentions the death penalty, while Mr. Overd claimed that he did not even use this part of the verse.

“I am amazed that the Judge sees it as his role to dictate which parts of the Bible can and can’t be preached. I did not quote the full text of Leviticus 20 or make reference to the death penalty but the Judge is telling me that I should use other parts of the Bible. This is not free speech but censorship. The Judge is redacting the Bible.

I have been ordered to pay compensation for causing ‘emotional pain’ to someone who approached me aggressively demanding to debate the issue.”

The evidence gathered in this case overall appears to have been rather flimsy; in hindsight it is not clear what actually was said. On the legal side, suggesting that people should assault and kill other people in order to punish their (albeit deviant) sexual behaviour would obviously constitute incitement to hate and violence. On the other hand, it is perfectly legitimate in a democratic country to publicly advocate a change of legislation, even if that change would imply the introduction of criminal sanctions for behaviours that are currently not punishable.

Besides this, it seems highly questionable whether the mere quotation of a verse from the Bible can ever constitute a crime, and if so, whether it is for a District Judge with a Muslim background to decide which Bible verses may, and which must not, be cited.

On a positive note, the judgment confirms that it is legitimate to call homosexual activity an abomination.