LONDON (BP) — Religious liberty took another hit in Great Britain when a Christian restaurant owner was threatened with arrest for playing a Bible DVD that included passages critical of homosexuality.
The incident, reported in the Daily Mail newspaper, is but the latest example of what U.K. conservatives say is an abuse of the country’s Public Order Act, which prohibits the use of “insulting” words that can cause “harassment, alarm or distress.”
The restaurant, called the Salt and Light Coffee House, for years has played a DVD version of the New Testament on an overhead TV, with the sound turned down and the words of the Bible appearing on screen. Called “The Watchword Bible,” the entire DVD series spans about 26 hours.
Police entered the restaurant Sept. 19 after getting a complaint. Restaurant owner Jamie Murray said he suspects the complaint came after the passage from Romans 1:26-26 was displayed on screen. The restaurant is located in Blackpool.
The two police officers conducted an “aggressive inquisition,” Murray said.
“I told them that all that appeared on the screen were the words of the New Testament,” Murray told the newspaper. “There is no sound, just the words on the screen and simple images in the background of sheep grazing or candles burning. I thought there might be some mix-up but they said they were here to explain the law to me and how I had broken it.
“I said, ‘Are you really telling me that I am facing arrest for playing the Bible?’ and the [officer] fixed me with a stare and said, ‘If you broadcast material that causes offence under the Public Order Act then we will have to take matters further. You cannot break the law.'”
He then turned off the TV.
“I was worried about being handcuffed and led out of the shop in front of my customers,” Murray said. “It wouldn’t have looked good so I thought it was better to comply. It felt like a betrayal. They left the shop and told me they would continue to monitor if we were displaying inflammatory material. At no stage had they spoken to me like I was a law-abiding citizen trying to earn a living. I felt like a criminal.”
But Murray says he is not going to back down. The Christian Institute, a British-based organization that fights for religious liberty, is representing him.
“I have now checked on my rights and I am not going to be bullied by the police and the PC lobby out of playing the Bible silently in my cafe,” he said. “It’s crazy. Christians have to stand up for what they believe in.”
Murray asked, “What’s next, people coming into churches and saying you can’t say this or that?”
A police spokesman told the Daily Mail that the force is “respectful of all religious views.”
“However, we do have a responsibility to make sure that material that communities may find deeply offensive or inflammatory is not being displayed in public,” the spokesman said.
It is not the first time the Public Order Act has been the source of controversy. Last year a Baptist street preacher in the U.K. was arrested for calling homosexuality a sin, and his arrest was based on the 1986 law.
The preacher, Dale Mcalpine, was arrested in April 2010 in the British town of Workington after a police officer — who happened to be homosexual — overheard him telling a woman that 1 Corinthians forbids homosexuality. The officer warned him to be quiet, and when he didn’t, he was arrested. The entire incident was captured on video.
Mcalpine was charged and jailed for seven hours, although charges were dropped.
“England, the U.S. and other Western nations share the same legal, political and religious traditions,” Mike Judge, a spokesman for the Christian Institute in the U.K., told Baptist Press last year. “If this can happen in England, it can happen where you live. Christians need to be aware that small changes in the law can lead to big changes in the culture. If you want to be free to share the Gospel, you must defend that liberty in the public square. Don’t hide in your churches; get out there and engage in the culture. Do it wisely, graciously, with excellence and with courage.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.