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Freedom of speech for street preachers

A Christian street preacher is on trial for verbally abusing a gay couple in Taunton high street. He is accused of telling them they would burn in hell, citing in his support 1 Corinthians:

Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Let's forgive him for using a ghastly modern translation (needless to say, the Authorised Version does not have the word 'homosexuals') and concentrate on the issue of freedom of speech – much in my mind as I prepare for tomorrow's rally in London on the subject.

Why the hell shouldn't a street preacher express his opinion that two adults are going to hell? Why didn't they just do what the rest of us do when harangued by a street preacher – simply laugh at him and walk on by? Why the rush to law? Why waste the time of a court?

The irony is that some religious adults fill children's innocent minds with terrifying stories of hell with society's full approval. It seems that we have become more sensitive to the feelings of adults than we have to those of children, which is bizarre, to say the least. Unlike vulnerable children, this adult couple could scarcely plead that their fear of hell (if any) was materially increased by the words of an obviously ridiculous street preacher.

Prosecution would of course be appropriate if he had physically attacked the men, or seriously threatened them with violence, or incited others to attack them violently. But, as far as one can tell from the inadequate news reports, he did no such thing. Indeed, the only people accused of threatening violence (not very plausibly) are the gay men themselves.

My question is, why is our society becoming so lily-livered about protecting freedom of speech? Have we really lost our sense of humour to the extent that even street preachers are prosecuted for exercising it?




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