In common with tens of thousands of Scotland’s Christians I was perturbed by the recent arrest of Pastor Josh Williamson for preaching the Gospel of salvation on Perth High Street. As a supporter of our police my initial reaction was disappointment, but acceptance that most of the time, police officers usually get things right.
However having read Pastor Williamson’s description of what happened, and given that the events were captured on video, the Pastor would have no reason to exaggerate or fabricate what had taken place. Looking at the evidence, it is clear that Police Scotland has a big problem in terms of its officers’ knowledge and understanding of the law.
This was confirmed through a little internet research which led me to article in the online journal ‘Sovereignty’ www.sovereignty.org . I am therefore taking the step of quoting a large part of the article because it relates to the fundamentals of democracy...freedom of speech.
The preamble to the article states that: ‘It examines the legality of street preaching, yet is applicable for all activists, including those who find themselves speaking politically at hustings or in the street. It is reprinted with permission and slightly abridged from Christian Voice, Dec 2002. It is the law in England and Wales, but the same general principles apply in Scotland.’
Summary of article from Sovereignty:
“Preaching in the street is lawful, even if it is contentious, unwelcome or provocative, and police officers may not ask preachers to be silent, according to a landmark ruling made in the Supreme Court in July 1999 as detailed here. This is the law of the land in England and Wales.
In the case of a threatened breach of the peace, the police must ask themselves where the threat is coming from. Disproportionate behaviour from a crowd will not allow a presumption that the preacher is responsible for the threat.
Street preachers wrongly arrested or convicted may be able to claim damages from the Crown Prosecutor or the Police.
Regarding the use of amplification, the holding of placards, and alleged obstruction when preaching or giving out tracts, the key test is reasonableness.
Many council bylaws and police instructions used against preachers may be unlawful, but will only be tested when someone is arrested and convicted and appeals to the High Court.”
Christians should continue to support our police. They should pray that Police Scotland will continue to effectively educate its officers in a clear understanding of the law, so that those who are gifted and tasked by God, can take His message of salvation to the streets of Scotland’s town and cities unmolested.